Hospital complaints include patient turned away from A&E despite risk of self-harm

More than one fifth of complaints about Irish hospitals were deemed ‘high severity’ including one from a person who claimed their mother should not have died and another who alleged a patient was turned away from an A&E even though she was at risk of self-harming.

An analysis of 641 complaints about HSE hospitals between October and December 2019 by NUI Galway and the HSE separated them into high severity (22%), medium severity (56%) and low severity (also 22%).

Among those complaints highlighted as potentially linked to ‘catastrophic harm’ was this: “My mother would still be alive if this had not happened.’

However the largest number were about hospital systems at 392 — including complaints about waiting lists.

“I was left on a waiting list for surgery for years,” at least one person wrote.

The analysis also found 322 complaints centered around patients’ arrival into hospitals including emergency departments (ED).

“She was turned away instead of admitted even though she was at risk of self-harming,” one person wrote, while another said: 

I was discharged from ED without even seeing a doctor. 

Some 92 complaints related to staff not listening to patients, including new parents who said: “While our newborn son was on the ward they took too long to notice his difficulty breathing and transfer him to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit).”

Another set of parents said: “‘We as the parents were ignored when we told them about our child’s allergies.”
Another complainant said: 

I told them that I didn’t think the sedation was working and they ignored me. 

There were 68 complaints around being discharged, with at least one also related to poor communication: “I wasn’t even told when I was discharged that my cancer was terminal, I found out afterwards.”
Among uncategorised complaints were data control issues, with one person writing: “I keep getting letters relating to another patient’s medical status.”

Senior lecturer in primary care at NUI Galway and research director of the Irish Centre for Applied Patient Safety and Simulation Dr Paul O’Connor said this analysis highlights where improvement should focus.

HSE assistant national director, National Complaints Governance and Learning Team Chris Rudland said: “Using data such as complaints from patients and family members ensures their voices are represented in service improvements.”

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