The HSE has apologised in the High Court to the family of an elderly woman over its failure to properly communicate a care plan devised by a hospital for her which her GP feared could involve her effectively starving to death.
The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, who described the breakdown as “substandard” and “regrettable,” was told the woman is to be fed by an alternative programme known as comfort feeding, which involves her being fed small amounts of certain foods orally.
The woman has been a ward of court since 2011.
The HSE accepted its plan for the woman, which was complied by a multi-disciplinary team composed of physicians, a dietitian, and a speech and language therapist, was not communicated to either the woman’s treating GP or her nursing home.
The manner in which she was discharged from hospital to a nursing home was substandard, and should not have happened, said counsel for the HSE, Sarah McKecknie BL.
All the nursing home and the GP got sight of was a discharge summary from the hospital.
Counsel told the court the multi-discipline team is also of the opinion that the woman was not a suitable candidate to be fed by PEG feeding via a tube into her stomach. They believed this fact had been conveyed to the family.
The HSE also apologised for not communicating with the Office of Wards of Court in regards to the woman’s health as it should have. Counsel asked that the matter be put back for a few days so that the court can be updated in relation to the woman’s situation.
The woman, who has dementia, recently lost the ability to swallow due to by a stroke, but is otherwise healthy. She was hospitalised in early January with aspirational pneumonia. She was discharged from the hospital late last week, at 4am, and was returned to a nursing home where she had been resident.
Solicitor Andrew Cody, representing the concerns of the woman’s daughter, who constitutes her wardship committee, had raised the situation with the court.
Mark Connaughton SC, for the committee, said his client wanted to see the multidisciplinary report and the care plan for the woman as soon as possible.
Lawyers for the HSE said this would be done.
Mr Justice Kelly said that, in this case, there had not been proper communication between the hospital and the GP and the nursing home concerning the woman and the care plan that had been put in place.
Noting that the HSE had apologised several times for what happened, Judge Kelly also said he hoped there would be agreement between the parties concerning the woman’s ongoing treatment. The “urgent” situation the court found itself presented with was something the judge said he hoped will not be repeated.
Mr Justice Kelly adjourning the matter to Friday said that he hoped any remaining difficulties between the parties concerning the woman’s health are resolved. If not the Judge said he was minded to appoint an visiting physician to independently assess the woman on the court’s behalf.
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