Nursing-home oversight must change after ‘traumatic’ death

Ultan Meehan’s family entitled to report and that case should be reviewed, says Taoiseach

Mary Bartley Meehan lost her husband, left, Ultan Meehan, and her son Adrian Bartley, right, within 10 weeks of each other. They shared a room in Kilbrew Nursing Home, Ashbourne. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

A review should be undertaken into the case of a nursing home resident who died two weeks after being admitted to hospital from a facial wound that became infested, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil.

Micheál Martin said he is concerned about the case of 79-year-old Ultan Meehan and that his family "is entitled to a report at the very least and the case should be reviewed".

Mr Martin also told Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy – who raised the case – that governance of nursing homes will have to change, that stronger clinical oversight will be required.

Ms Murphy called for a report by health watchdog Hiqa to be completed for Mr Meehan’s family.


Later Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd asked the Taoiseach to appoint a consultant geriatrician to investigate the nursing home concerned because “further and new cases have been brought to light” and it is needed urgently.

Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín said the family had not got an investigation from Hiqa, the Health Service Executive or Department of Health into the case of Mr Meehan, who died on June 15th.

On May 14th, Mary Bartley Meehan was permitted to visit her husband, outside Kilbrew Nursing Home in Ashbourne, Co Meath.

The visit was specially arranged during lockdown on seats outside because she had lost her son and Ultan’s stepson, Adrian Bartley (52), who also lived at Kilbrew, to coronavirus just six weeks earlier. Adrian had Down’s syndrome and dementia.

Mrs Meehan was “deeply shocked” at the “horrific” condition of her husband, who also suffered from dementia and was terminally ill with cancerous tumours on his face.

"I don't think I will ever forget it," she told The Irish Times last week at her home near Navan.

Her husband was wearing a jumper belonging to her late son – the two men had shared a room at Kilbrew – and somebody else’s shoes. The side of his face was black with congealed blood. His nails were long and black from picking at his facial tumours, which had become an open wound and infected.

Mr Meehan was brought to hospital on May 29th two weeks after his wife raised concerns about the condition in which she found her husband.

Taoiseach responds

Mr Martin said he had sought an update from the department and that Mrs Meehan’s experience – when she visited the nursing home – was “very worrying indeed”.

He added: “She lost both her son and her husband and it was a very, very traumatic situation which deserves a comprehensive, full response for herself and her family and that should be done.”

Ms Murphy said they knew from the number of deaths from Covid-19 in nursing homes how exposed the sector was.

She said the Freedom of Information requests, released to The Irish Times, showed that senior health officials were privately raising concerns about coronavirus hitting nursing homes in March. One flagged “their totally inadequate preparation” . . . with “another saying it was the biggest live risk facing the health service”.

Ms Murphy asked when a report of the panel on nursing homes established by the former minister for health would be published. It was due to report by the end of June, she said.

The Taoiseach replied that the panel would report within the next fortnight. The nursing home sector was not adequately prepared for the pandemic and a lot had been learned since and there was “very comprehensive testing now going on in nursing homes”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times