HSE accused of ‘selectively leaking’ report into woman’s death in hospital

THE Health Service Executive has been accused of “selectively leaking” a report into the death of a 75-year-old woman so it hangs “like a sword” over staff of the Cork hospital where she died.

Local Labour TD Sean Sherlock also claimed the HSE was using Hannah Comber’s death at Heatherside hospital near Doneraile in June 2006 as an excuse not to admit any new patients to the facility.

The incident was the subject of an almost three-year independent investigation established by the HSE.

The health authority has received a copy of the report into her death and even though it previously said it would publish the outcome in full, this week it said it had sought legal advice which was “currently under consideration”.

Nevertheless parts of the report obtained by the media indicate that the report agrees with postmortem results which found Hannah Comber was choked to death by a restraining belt being used to hold her in a chair at Heatherside hospital in June 2006.

The report is also understood to claim there was no evidence to support a suggestion by staff that the woman had died as a result of a seizure. Nevertheless, it agrees with existing conclusions that the death was accidental.

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, on the night in question, she had become restless after getting out of bed.

An inquest was later told there was no written policy in the hospital 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 the woman’s body. They were not told she had choked on the ligature. That only emerged after the postmortem. Nevertheless, a garda investigation into the incident concluded quickly and the Director of Public Prosecutions said there should be no charges.

Yesterday, Labour TD Sean Sherlock said: “The HSE must publish the report and stop selectively leaking it. The HSE has used the death of Hannah Comber as an excuse not to admit new patients pending the publication of the report which we were told in April would be provided to the HSE within 4-6 weeks but over four months on is still in limbo.

“If the DPP made a recommendation not to prosecute any one individual then this tragedy needs closure. There is a future for the facility in my opinion but its future needs to be looked at with more lateral thinking rather than just closing it

“I strongly believe that there should be no move to close the hospital and transfer operations to St Stephen’s Hospital in Cork.

“St Stephen’s, while offering an excellent standard of care, is still inadequate for Heatherside patients in that the unit to which it is proposed to transfer patients still requires a lot of work,”

Last night the HSE refused to comment on Mr Sherlock’s claims or give a date as to when it will publish the findings.

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