GP and HSE apologise for part played in lead up to death of Cork mother of four

Woman’s husband settles High Court action over blood test showing low levels of potassium for €850,000

A man who sued a GP and the HSE over the death of his wife a day after a blood test showed she had low levels of potassium has settled his High Court action for €850,000.

Dr John O’Mahony SC told the High Court the low levels of potassium were “a recipe for disaster”, particularly in relation to cardiac function, and Maureen O’Sullivan, a mother of four, should have immediately gone to hospital.

Donal O'Sullivan, husband of the late Ms O'Sullivan, had sued a GP, Dr Therese Crotty, Main Street, Ballincollig, Co Cork and the HSE.

In a letter to the O’Sullivan family signed by both defendants and read to the High Court, both apologised unreservedly for the part they played in the events leading up to Ms O’Sullivan’s death.

The letter said: “I deeply regret the tragic circumstances that led to the death of your wife, mother and sister Mrs Maureen O’Sullivan. I apologise unreservedly for the part I played in the events leading up to her death.”

It added:”I am acutely conscious of the pain and suffering which this has caused to you and to the other family members and I am so sorry for your terrible loss.”

Mr Justice Kevin Cross was told liability in the case was admitted in the last few weeks.

Donal O'Sullivan, of Lower Belmont, Crookstown, Co Cork had sued Dr Crotty and the HSE over the death of his wife, aged in her fifties, on November 8th 2011.

On November 4th 2011, Mrs O’Sullivan had attended Dr Crotty complaining of palpitations and a blood test was taken which was sent for analysis to the laboratory at Cork University Hospital.

On November 7th, the results of the blood test which indicated severe hypokalaemia, a low level of potassium, was telephoned to the GP’s surgery.

It was claimed the GP failed to arrange to admit Mrs O’Sullivan immediately to hospital upon learning she suffered severe hypokalaemia and failed to advise Mrs O’Sullivan to attend hospital immediately.

‘Bullet proof’

In the case against the HSE, it was claimed there was failure to adequately communicate the significance of the abnormal blood test results to the GP and to have in place or to implement appropriate systems for communicating blood test results to GPs.

It was further claimed the HSE had relied on a clerical officer to communicate the test results and failed to highlight in communication of the results to the GP’s surgery they required urgent clinical attention

In court on Tuesday, Dr O’Mahony said the result of the blood test was conveyed by phone to the GP’s surgery.

The day after the phone call, Mrs O’Sullivan went to her GP, he said. She was very unwell and succumbed in a very short period of time.

He said their case against the GP was that low levels of potassium should have been a warning sign and Mrs O’Sullivan should have gone to hospital immediately once the results were known on November 7th.

The GP’s case was that the call came into the surgery rather than directly to the GP.

The case against the HSE was there should be a “bullet proof means of communicating” directly to a doctor and not just to the surgery, he said.

Approving the €850,00 settlement, Mr Justice Cross sympathised with the family on their sad loss.