Tallaght hospital apology for 'unnecessary' fatality


Tallaght hospital has apologised to a Dublin family over the “unnecessary” death of their father in the hospital seven years ago.

The hospital has admitted negligence and is to pay the family a substantial six-figure sum in compensation over “a catastrophic cascade of errors” which led to the death of Peter Acton.

Deteriorating condition

Mr Acton, a 61-year-old painter from Clondalkin, died of pneumonia and sepsis in October 2005. The hospital settled after the family filed medical evidence which indicated a failure to respond adequately to his deteriorating condition and to provide sufficient fluids to prevent dehydration.

His family is campaigning for a public inquiry to ensure the mistakes are not repeated with other patients.

They say the hospital’s admission of liability has effectively “closed the door” on finding out the full circumstances of Mr Acton’s death by way of a court hearing.

“We’ve had to fight 7½ years to get the truth,” said the deceased’s daughter Lisa Acton-Burke. “There’s nowhere independent for ordinary people like us to go in situations like this.”

A spokeswoman for the hospital declined to comment, saying it did not discuss “legal cases”.

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the family had been met by a “wall of silence”. He called for “the fullest participation of all those involved” to shed light on the decision and actions which led up to Mr Acton’s death.

The family alleges that the hospital failed to report the death to the coroner, put the wrong cause of death on the original death certificate, failed to produce records sought under freedom of information promptly and failed to carry out an investigation into the death.

It says the hospital had a statutory obligation to report his death to the coroner in circumstances where questions were raised about the cause of death or where there was a suspicion of medical negligence.

In January 2012, the family wrote to the Dublin City Coroner seeking an inquest into Mr Acton’s death. Their solicitor wrote to the Attorney General last August with the same request. The coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, has agreed to hold an inquest, which takes place next month.

Admitted liability

The hospital twice provided a wrong cause of death on the information provided to the General Register Office, which issues death certificates, and a corrected certificate was issued on two occasions.

The family’s complaints were dealt with by an advocacy board at the hospital, which facilitated a meeting with medical staff. At this meeting the family says they were told “a catastrophic cascade of errors” had occurred which led to Mr Acton’s death.

In December 2011, the hospital and the HSE admitted liability in respect of the proceedings started by the family four years earlier. The hospital has also agreed to an apology for Mr Acton’s death, signed by chief executive Eilish Hardiman, to be read at a future court hearing.

In the apology, the hospital says it accepts responsibility for the death in 2005. “We acknowledge that Mr Acton’s death was caused by negligence – in particular, the failure to properly address the severity of his condition and the failure to respond to the deteriorating clinical situation.We apologise for the sorrow and distress caused to the Acton family for Peter’s unnecessary death.”

“It’s hard to live with the fact that your dad died in a hospital because he didn’t get a drink of water,” said Ms Acton-Burke.