TD accuses HSE of ‘cover-up’ over report into woman’s death

THE HSE has been accused of engaging in a “cover-up” by delaying for more than four months the publication of a report into the death of a 75-year-old at a north Cork hospital.

Labour TD Seán Sherlock intends to raise in the Dáil two critical issues surrounding the death of Hannah Comber:

* The three-year period it took an independent HSE investigation team to investigate her death; and

* The alleged withholding of the outcome of that team’s report.

Postmortem results stated Hannah Comber was choked to death by a restraining belt used to hold her in a chair at Heatherside hospital, in Buttevant, Co Cork, in June 2006.

The belt was bound round Ms Comber’s waist, but it is thought she fell asleep and slipped down causing the buckle to compress her neck. She had been restrained because she had become restless after getting out of bed.

An inquest was later told there was no written hospital policy on the use of restraint chairs, or for dealing with a sudden death.

However, when gardaí went to the hospital in the hours after Ms Comber’s death, they were told staff on duty had washed and cleaned her body. They were not told she had choked on the ligature.

Nevertheless, a Garda investigation into the incident concluded quickly and the Director of Public Prosecutions said there should be no charges.

However, it took the independent team that investigated Ms Comber’s death almost three years to complete a draft report.

At the start of April, the HSE said it expected to receive a copy of the report within four to six weeks and it said it would publish it “in the interests of Hannah Comber, her family, public confidence in their services, as well as openness and transparency.”

However, for the last two months, it said it has sought legal advice.

Mr Sherlock said: “The HSE has been promising us the publication of this report for some time. It is still as of now not in the public domain. The longer this goes on the greater the suspicion arises as to the contents of this report.

“I don’t understand what the HSE has to hide in relation to this matter.

“I understand that matters have been concluded in relation to the Director of Public Prosecutions’ involvement. If that is the case, one suspects there is some form of cover-up going on here from an administrative point of view.

“The question arises as to whether or not certain persons in positions of responsibility had certain responsibilities in relation to this matter. That is something which must be answered.

“The other point that has to be made is in relation to the closure of the hospital. We have been told that no new patients will be taken into the hospital on the basis that this report was outstanding… I think they are deliberately using this report to close the hospital. I believe it is a viable hospital if it changed its use to that of a feasible public hospital for older people. I will be raising this issue again with the Minister for Health.”

Last night the HSE said: “It has been suggested that the HSE is in some way engaged in a cover-up. The HSE strongly refutes this suggestion.

“When such reports are received by the HSE or any other public body, there is a legal requirement to ensure due process for all involved. There is a legal obligation on the HSE to ensure that it addresses such matters appropriately.

“The HSE has sought legal advice on the report which is currently under consideration.”


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