HSE: No plans to publish report into elderly patient who choked to death

HSE: No plans to publish report into elderly patient who choked to death

Heatherside Hospital, which is now closed, where a patient choked to death 11 years ago.

ELEVEN years after an elderly, vulnerable patient choked to death at a nursing home in North Cork, the HSE has confirmed it has no plans to ever release the full details of the circumstances surrounding her death.

Hannah Comber, a 74-year-old patient with schizophrenia, was found dead at Heatherside Hospital, near Buttevant, on June 22, 2006.

Ms Comber died as a result of asphyxiation, occurring when she slipped in her sleep after being placed in a chair with a restraint belt.

A HSE report was carried out into the circumstances surrounding the death of Ms Comber, reportedly at a cost of up to €90,000.

In response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act, the HSE refused to release this internal report, citing ongoing legal proceedings relating to the case.

However, the Evening Echo can confirm that a judgement was handed down in the High Court in January in legal proceedings taken by two individuals involved in the incident against the Nurses and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI). The HSE refused to comment if it was aware of separate legal proceedings currently underway with a third party.

“The HSE is not involved in any legal proceedings in relation to this matter.

“We cannot comment on proceedings involving third parties,” a HSE Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare spokesperson said.

Despite statements in recent years that the findings of the report would be released, the HSE has now confirmed full details of the report will never be made public.

In a statement, the HSE said: “Unfortunately the HSE does not expect to be in a position to publish the report in full because the investigation was carried out under a process called ‘Trust in Care’.

“Under that process, which has been agreed with staff representative bodies, those taking part are entitled to expect confidentiality.

“We cannot breach that expectation after the fact, despite the fact that we would like to be able to publish the report in full.

“We understand that this causes frustrations and raises questions, but it was the most appropriate route available at the time.”

When asked if any of the parties involved in the circumstances around Ms Comber’s death were offered indemnity in exchange for information, the HSE said: “There was no “deal” in relation to indemnity, confidentiality or any other matter with any member of staff, current or former.

“We can say that there is nothing substantive in the report which isn’t already in the public domain and that it did not identify any incident of abuse or any issue other than the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Ms Comber’s death.

“We will shortly publish the report recommendations and its terms of reference, which is as much as is open to us to publish.”

In a statement, the Nurses and Midwifery Board of Ireland said: “This matter is still before the Board and so no further information can be provided at this time.”

Heatherside Hospital closed in 2011. At the time, patients were transferred to a new facility in St Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital in Gurranabraher.

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