€90k report into 2006 hospital death not yet published

HEALTH Minister James Reilly is being asked to explain why details of an inquiry costing more than €90,000 have still not been made public — nearly five years after an elderly patient’s death at a Co Cork hospital.

The HSE South launched an investigation shortly after Hannah Comber, 75, died at Heatherside Hospital, near Buttevant, in June 2006.

On the night she died, the psycho-geriatric patient had been restless and staff removed her to a day room where they put her in a chair and attached a restraining belt.

Sometime during the night, however, the frail patient slipped down the chair and the restraining belt trapped her neck.

A postmortem examination concluded she choked as a result of this.

A jury sitting before coroner Dr Michael Kennedy ruled death by misadventure.

It has now emerged the HSE has spent, to date, €91,600 investigating Ms Comber’s death.

Nearly five years on, and despite repeated promises, it has still not made the report public.

Gardaí launched an investigation into the elderly woman’s death, but the Director of Public Prosecutions decided there should be no prosecution.

It is understood an independent team appointed by the HSE has already interviewed a number of staff.

The HSE has said there is a legal obligation to provide “due process for all concerned” and to ensure “the matter is addressed appropriately in the context of its duty of care to patients, staff and the public”.

However, junior minister for research and innovation, Seán Sherlock, said he was not happy with the length of time it is taking the HSE to fulfil its promise to publish the report.

“I have written directly to the minister for health on this matter.

“A line needs to be drawn under this now as it’s nearly five years since Ms Comber’s death,” Mr Sherlock said.

The hospital was earmarked for closure in 2009 and, last September, the Health Information Quality Authority (HIQA) expressed serious concerns over the suitability of the structure and layout of the building.

Last week, the north Cork hospital was closed and all of its patients were moved to a new facility at St Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital in Gurranabraher, Cork city.

Mr Sherlock said he was concerned, as Heatherside Hospital had now closed, the report into Ms Comber’s death may never see the light of day.

“That would not be how the state should do its business,” the Labour Party TD said.


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