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Coroner makes hospital recommendation following sudden death


Anton McNulty

THE Coroner for North Mayo has recommended that elderly patients who are referred to hospital by their GP should be kept overnight as a precaution instead of being discharged.
Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald made the recommendation after hearing the inquest of 91-year-old Mary Connor who died from heart failure in her home in Crossmolina, just days after she was discharged from Mayo University Hospital.
The post mortem found that the cause of death was as a result of acute pericarditis which is inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart and which led to cardiac arrest.
Dr Tomas Nemeth, Consultant Pathologist estimated that the pericarditis would have been present for at least a week before Ms Connor’s death but blood tests, chest x-rays and ECG’s performed in Mayo University Hospital did not identify the condition.
Ms Connor’s inquest, which was held in Ballina Courthouse, heard she was referred to hospital by her GP but tests in Mayo University Hospital showed her condition was not conducive to her being admitted. She was discharged at 2am on January 18, 2017 and brought home by neighbours. She was found dead in her home on January 22, 2017.
Speaking following the inquest, Dr Fitzgerald said that while it was unclear if Ms Connor would have survived for long even if she was diagnosed in hospital, she would be writing to Mayo University Hospital to make her recommendations clear.
“On the back of this inquest I would be recommending that anybody living alone or elderly in particular who are presented to hospital by referral should be at least admitted over night and observed. From a safety point of view, and from my observations as a coroner it should be mentioned that elderly people living alone should not be discharged at 2am with no follow up. I’m not attributing blame but in hindsight it would have been wiser for the deceased to be admitted to hospital,” she said.

‘Shortness of breath’
The inquest heard that Ms Connor, from Fotish, Crossmolina, was brought to hospital by her neighbours on January 17, 2017 after complaining of a shortness of breath.
Dr Jason Horan, the Consultant in Emergency Medicine in Mayo University Hospital said Ms Connor was seen at 8pm and after checking her vital signs, her triage was deemed to be category four which is a low priority.
She had an ECG on her heart which did not show anything significant while a chest x-ray was normal and her lungs were clear. She was discharged when her blood pressure was stabilised and brought home by neighbours.
Dr Horan said she did not give any indication of pain and there was no evidence of pericarditis and there was no features to warrant an emergency admission. When asked by Dr Fitzgerald if it would have been better for Ms Connor to be admitted, he said that even in retrospect she did not represent any  symptoms to indicate pericarditis.
The inquest also heard statements from her neighbours who said she was in good form when leaving the hospital and glad to be going home.
Dr Fitzgerald recorded a verdict of death from natural causes and extended sympathy to her relatives as well as commending her neighbours for looking after her.