Non-drinker prescribed drugs for alcoholism at A&E hospital, ombudsman says


A woman who abstained from alcohol was given medication for alcoholism after going to the emergency department at Mater Hospital with severe pain and jaundice.

Her daughter complained to the Ombudsman that her mother, who died shortly after, had received medication for treatment of acute alcohol withdrawal as part of emergency cancer treatment.

The family felt that she had missed precious time with her mother at the end of her life because of the side effects of the prescribed drug..

An ultrasound confirmed the woman, who had not drunk alcohol for about 10 years, had liver cancer, according to the Ombudsman’s report for 2020 which was released yesterday.

Her family had noticed that the woman – named Norah in the report – was drowsy and confused. They expressed their concerns to the nursing team and a doctor came to examine him. The doctor stopped the drugs.

Norah’s family complained to the hospital that she had been falsely prescribed medication. Soon after she died.

The hospital admitted that the woman was wrongly given two drugs, but was unable to identify the doctor who wrote the prescription.

The prescription was initialed, but without an Irish Medical Council registration number.

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said an incident form should have been completed immediately and more effort should have been made at that time to identify the doctor, as opposed to when the complaint was received.

The hospital CEO has since issued a written apology to the family and the hospital is implementing an education program for the staff.

According to the report, the number of complaints about public services has been high.

There were 3,418 complaints last year. This is only 6% less than in 2019, the highest number of complaints since 2015.

The Ombudsman said he was contacted by relatives of people in nursing homes at the start of the pandemic and worked with Hiqa to get issues resolved as quickly as possible.

Mr Tyndall, who is retiring after nearly eight years as a mediator, said the lack of communication with loved ones and visitation restrictions still caused considerable distress at the time of writing.

He said he wanted complaints about clinical judgments in private nursing homes to be included in his office’s mandate.

The report also reveals that an artist working overseas had her Pandemic Unemployment Benefit (PUP) stopped by the Department of Social Protection.

Payment was restored and she received € 5,600 in arrears after filing a complaint with the Ombudsman.

The ministry agreed to reconsider its decision after the ombudsman could not find a basis for his decision to stop the payment to the woman, who resided in Ireland and paid taxes here.

The woman, who is a self-employed worker and referred to as Stephanie in the report, worked at a Greek resort that closed in March of last year.

One of the main grievances raised by the public has been complaints about reimbursement of arrears of pandemic unemployment payments.

There were 735 complaints about the Department of Social Welfare, and 126 of them were about the PUP.

Departments were the main source of grievances.

They represented 32% of complaints and were followed by local authorities at 26% and the health and social sector at 18%.

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