Doctor tried to use scalpel to put tube in patient’s hand, hears medical council

Nurse believed doctor not medically qualified

A nurse who prevented a doctor from allegedly trying to use a scalpel to put a tube into a patient's hand told a Medical Council fitness-to-practise inquiry yesterday she did not believe he was a doctor.

Nurse X, unnamed by direction of the inquiry, told the inquiry into allegations of professional misconduct against Dr Vincent Osunkwo he looked at her "blankly" when an elderly woman who had been vomiting blood arrived in the emergency unit at the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, on March 9th, 2009.

She said he did not seem to know what to ask for and so she asked him to cannulate – insert a tube – into the patient. This should have been done by cleaning and numbing an area and then inserting a needle. But when she turned around Dr Osunkwo was holding a scalpel to the back of the woman’s hand.

“The lady was crying and he was about to cut into a vein,” Nurse X said.

“I said, ‘Jesus what are you doing?’ I took it out of his hand and put it down.” When she asked him why he did it, he had “a blank look on his face”. Nurse X rang the on-call registrar for assistance.

Asked if it was possible to insert a cannula using a scalpel, she said: “No, never ever.”

Nurse X said she had worked with junior doctors before but Dr Osunkwo “did not seem to have a clue how to treat a patient”. “I did not honestly believe that was a doctor that night,” she said.

Dr Osunkwo worked at the Portlaoise hospital from February to April 2009. After complaints were made against the Nigerian-qualified doctor he was removed from clinical duty and allowed only to shadow other doctors. He has since returned to Nigeria and did not attend yesterday’s hearing. Via email, he accused the Medical Council of “borderline character assassination”.

The allegations against him included that he tried to read a spinal X-ray while holding it upside down; could not identify the nasal bone on an X-ray; was unable to diagnose a fungal nail infection; and made an excessive number of attempts to take a blood sample from a patient’s arm.

Staff nurse Aisling McCormack said that on the night of March 9th she told Dr Osunkwo a patient had a pulse of 165 and he asked if that was high. A normal range is 60 to 100. He also did not know what to do about it, she said. She was concerned for patient safety.

Retired consultant surgeon Walter Conway, who worked with Dr Osunkwo, said he was “deficient in many areas” and did not have the “basic medical knowledge even a medical student should know”.

Retired consultant surgeon Peter Naughton said the doctor had been the only person to respond to an advert for the role of senior house officer at the hospital. He was not aware whether his references had been checked but knew he had worked at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin.

The case continues next week.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist