The Mayor of Galway city has hit out at the HSE West accusing it of “learning nothing” from the tragic death of a former University Hospital Galway outpatient in a car accident on his way home to Clifden last February.
Speaking after the inquest into the death of 60-year-old Sean Flaherty - who had hearing and speech problems and had attended the hospital’s emergency department for treatment for a broken arm - Cllr Padraig Conneely said he was “disappointed” that the HSE had no guidelines in place for dealing with the transport needs of people with disabilities.
The Fine Gael councillor, who is a member of the health authority’s regional health forum west and highlighted the late Mr Flaherty’s case on numerous occasions at its meetings, says he remains “very critical” of the HSE.
“In the months since he died I have raised this issue consistently. The late Mr Flaherty was sent to UHG’s A&E department by taxi on February 27 but had to find his own way home. He had been given a letter by his GP - who called a local hackney to take him in - stating he was suffering from a speech and hearing impediment. That should have been enough to alert the hospital authorities that Sean Flaherty would need an extra bit of care and attention. He left the hospital with his arm in a sling and no way home.
“The hospital authorities should have been aware of his difficulty. They should have been alerted by his doctor’s letter. They should have called a taxi for him. It was late in the evening - 6pm - it was dark and raining heavily. He hadn’t one red cent in his pocket, just the key of his house. He was sent in by taxi, his doctor in Clifden felt he required a taxi in, so it would follow he required one out. After he left the hospital he was seen by people enquiring where the road to Clifden was. It has been established he did go into houses in the Bushypark area asking was this the road to Clifden.” Tragically the Connemara school caretaker died after being knocked down on the Moycullen Road as he tried to make his way home.
Cllr Conneely says it transpired at the inquest into the late Mr Flaherty’s death that the HSE has “no protocols or guidelines” in place to deal with the needs of people with disabilities in relation to “transport and assessment”.
The jury recommended that the HSE draw up guidelines both for discharging patients with disabilities to ensure their safe return home and for taxi drivers bringing patients with disabilities to and from hospital.
Cllr Conneely says he was “disappointed” by the local health authority. “The HSE came into the inquest and said there were no protocols or guidelines in place. I’m very critical the HSE has learned nothing from this tragic accident which led to the death of Seanie Flaherty. His sister and brother and myself met hospital management in May. They [hospital] said they regretted it and apologised to the family. They said there was an assessment failure. After seven months the HSE hasn’t learned. They seem to be slow learners. There appears to be a great reluctance to make changes in protocols and guidelines re transport arrangements. Regretfully it is too late for Sean Flaherty. Hopefully this will not happen to someone in similar circumstances again.”
The City Mayor will raise this issue at the next regional health forum west meeting at the end of the month.
“I’ll be asking what protocols have been put in place to prevent this happening again.”
In a statement issued to this newspaper the HSE West said staff and management at University Hospital Galway wished to extend its deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Mr Sean Flaherty on his tragic death.
“The hospital believes that Mr Flaherty received the appropriate treatment and care in its emergency department on the afternoon of 27th February 2008 and staff gave due regard to Mr Flaherty’s hearing disability.
“Regrettably, hospital staff were not made aware of any other disability and there was no communicated need to provide transport home for Mr Flaherty on that day.
“The hospital accepts the recommendations of the coroner’s inquest and is always mindful that people with any degree of disability receive the best possible care and attention.”