Patient caught fire while on a smoking break

A man suffered extensive burns after his clothes went on fire in the smoking area of a psychiatric facility were he was a resident, an inquest has heard.

Percy Ryan, 68, of Knockballyfookeen, Pallasgreen, Co Limerick, went to the smoking shed at O’Connell House, Newcastle West, Co Limerick, after lunch on July 22, 2011. At 2.10pm, nursing staff heard shouts from the smoking hut at the HSE-run facility, and found Mr Ryan, who was a smoker, was on fire.

“Percy was standing in the middle of the floor and there were flames coming up his left leg from his left side,” said Bridget Griffin, one of the nurses.

“I saw Percy Ryan standing up, his left leg was on fire,” another nurse, Martina Sheehy, told an inquest at Cork Coroner’s Court.

Ms Griffin pulled Mr Ryan to the ground and tackled the flames using a garment, while Ms Sheehy grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the flames.

There were 28 residents in the unit and four nurses on duty at the time. Mr Ryan was alone in the hut.

A heat alarm did not go off, as there was not enough of a build-up of heat to trigger it, the inquest heard.

Mr Ryan was taken to the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Limerick. He was later transferred to Cork University Hospital, where he died on Aug 7, 2011.

An autopsy by assistant state pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster found he died of pneumonia on a background of burns, which covered 30% of his body.

An investigation after the incident made an number of recommendations, including that a risk assessment should be carried out of all persons who smoke and that there should be greater vigilance and supervision of people at risk of harm from smoking.

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