‘We were kept in dark about superbug’

THE family of a woman who died from hospital-acquired superbugs criticised the health service yesterday and said they were kept in the dark about her condition.

Eileen O’Sullivan’s daughters and son said they have “lost respect” for the health service after an inquest recorded a verdict of death due to healthcare-acquired infection.

They also called on health bosses to “learn something” and be more open with people about superbugs.

Ms O’Sullivan, 58, from Knocknaheeny, Cork, had a chest infection and was sent to the South Infirmary Victoria Hospital for a chest X-ray on May 17, 2007.

However, doctors deemed her too ill to be allowed home and she was admitted with suspected pneumonia.

She died on July 21 after being ravaged by a spate of infections including two bouts of the potentially fatal clostridium difficile (C-Diff) superbug, a bout of a virulent urinary tract infection, which was antibiotic resistant, and three bouts of pneumonia.

She was under the care of consultant cardiologist Dr Gerry Fahy, who was on annual leave at the time of her death.

Cork Coroner’s Court heard that in his absence, registrar Dr Darragh Moran signed a medical certificate recording death due to pneumonia caused by MRSA.

The inquest also heard that no postmortem was carried out.

But Ms O’Sullivan’s daughter, Shirley Babbington, said the family wanted answers. “It is very wrong to be kept in the dark, watching someone you love deteriorate in front of you,” she said.

Following yesterday’s inquest she said: “Hopefully people will watch this and learn something from it.”

Dr Fahy told the inquest that when he returned from his annual leave, he gave the family the medical cert but did not agree with the cause of death as signed by Dr Moran.

“I didn’t want to be seen to be hiding anything,” said Dr Fahy.

He told city coroner Dr Myra Cullinane that Ms O’Sullivan had tested positive for colonisation with MRSA, but there were no signs of infection. He said in his opinion, and in the absence of a postmortem, Ms O’Sullivan’s cause of death was pneumonia, debilitation as a consequence of recurrent C-Diff and recurrent urinary tract infection.

Dr Cullinane recorded a verdict of death due to healthcare-acquired infection. The family welcomed the ruling and thanked Dr Fahy for the care he had given their mother, but said lessons needed to be learnt.

Another daughter, Elizabeth O’Donovan, said she has lost a lot of respect for hospitals.

“I think postmortems should be done automatically,” she said. “And people are not being informed properly about MRSA symptoms or other superbugs. They need to get the message out more and more to help people understand what’s going on.”

Although Ms O’Sullivan weighed a little more than five stone, Ms Babbington told the inquest that she had been in good health, was working as a cleaner in the Cope Foundation in Hollyhill right up until the day before she went to hospital, and had enjoyed a holiday abroad with friends just a few months earlier.

She said her mother also loved minding her three grandchildren.

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