Probe completed — 3 years after patient’s death

AN independent investigation into the death of a 75-year-old patient at a north Cork hospital has finally been completed — nearly three years after the tragedy.

Hannah Comber, a diagnosed schizophrenic, died in June 2006 at Heatherside Hospital, near Doneraile, after being choked by a restraining belt.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has promised to publish a report on the circumstances surrounding her death “in the interests of her family, public confidence in their services, as well as openness and transparency”.

On the night Ms Comber died, she had become restless after getting out of bed.

Staff then put her in a chair in the day room.

A restraining belt had been put around the woman and it’s believed that when she fell asleep she slipped down the chair and her neck was compressed by the buckle of the belt. As a result, she died of asphyxia.

An inquest into her death recorded a verdict of misadventure.

Dr Michael Kennedy, the coroner, was told there was no written policy in the hospital on the use of restraint chairs or for dealing with a sudden death.

The coroner said he would be contacting Heatherside Hospital management with a list of recommendations.

The Director of Public Prosecutions decided no charges would follow Ms Comber’s death.

The independent investigation commenced its work in August 2006. Last year, those conducting it said they hadn’t been able to finalise the investigation because they were still trying to talk to one member of staff who was on duty the night Ms Comber died.

The HSE confirmed yesterday that it had been advised by the chairman of the Independent Review Committee that a draft report on Ms Comber’s death had been completed and final arrangements for submission to the HSE were under way.

It is expected that this draft report will be received by the HSE within four to six weeks.

Junior Minister for Health John Moloney is to visit Heatherside Hospital next Friday, where he will formally be asked by Cork East Labour TD Deputy Sean Sherlock to confirm a publication date.

“This visit will only be worthwhile if he announces that the HSE will give a date for the publication of a report in relation to the death of the patient,” Mr Sherlock said.

Meanwhile, the HSE has made a decision to relocate 38 patients from Heatherside to more modern facilities at St Stephen’s Hospital, Glanmire.

The HSE will also relocate many of the hospital’s staff.

“We will continue to work closely with residents and their families as well as staff to make the transition to the St Stephen’s Hospital as smooth as possible in the coming months,” a HSE spokeswoman said.

However, Mr Sherlock said Heatherside should not be closed completely.

“At a time when there is a shortage of community beds, the hospital could be redesignated as a community facility for elder care. I will therefore be pressing the case to the minister to secure the hospital’s future,” he said.

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