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Bullied disabled woman waited 45 minutes for triage after diet pill overdose

Parents describe how disabled 23-year-old had been bullied about weight at school

By Sophie Inge

Published 27/10/2016

Anthony and Rhonda Houston, parents of Edel at the inquest yesterday
Anthony and Rhonda Houston, parents of Edel at the inquest yesterday
Edel Houston
Paramedic Alastair Drummond

A young disabled woman who overdosed on diet pills after being bullied about her weight was not examined by medical staff for over 45 minutes after being admitted to hospital, a coroners court has heard.

Edel Houston, of Glebe Road East in Newtownabbey, died on June 2 last year after suffering caffeine toxicity and aspiration pneumonia.

The court heard how 23-year-old Ms Houston was taken to hospital by ambulance at 12.41am after complaining of palpitations, breathing problems and vomiting.

She admitted to her parents that she had taken two 'Hero Mints' containing caffeine to help her lose weight.

Ms Houston's father, Anthony Houston, told the court in a statement that his daughter had been diagnosed at birth with Neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition that caused a tumour on her optic nerve - meaning that she was registered blind.

The condition also meant that she was not able to walk until she was three years old and had to attend a number of physiotherapy sessions.

Ms Houston had to have a classroom assistant because of her vision problems and was bullied about her weight.

Her mother, Rhonda Houston, said she began hiding food around the house and didn't like to eat in front of other classmates.

"She started to eat lunch in the toilets because they were bullying her and chastising her for eating food," her mother told the court.

But on June 1, the day before her death, Ms Houston's father said she had been in "great spirits" and her "general health and outlook had greatly improved over the last six months".

"For example, on the previous Saturday she went out socially with her mum and several of her mum's friends," he said.

On the day in question, he said he had taken her to an eating disorder support group at a local Asda store.

At the meeting, she had contributed to all discussions and talked about raising funds for charity.

She then bought some sweets at the shop for her mother and sister and they returned home at about 9.45pm.

But things took a turn for the worse later that evening.

"Edel came into the living room and told us that she had consumed two 'Hero Mints'. Apparently she had taken these to control her weight.

"She was very worried and related the story of a man who had taken an entire packet of these mints and had subsequently died.

"Shortly afterwards she started to become sick and complained that her heart was racing and that she couldn't breathe properly."

Paramedic Alastair Drummond said Ms Houston was found to be suffering from tachycardia, an abnormally rapid heart rate.

It was 140 beats per minute and increased to 153bpm, then 180bpm. She had a low blood pressure and appeared "drowsy and confused".

He said he did not issue a standby call to warn medical staff at the hospital of Ms Houston's arrival because they was just minutes away. Once there, triage nurse Mr Ruel Carreon said he did not express any cause for alarm.

When asked why he did not appear to be concerned that her heart rate would increase even further, Mr Drummond replied: "There is a potential it would have gone up, that's correct. But at the end of the day the overall general presentation of the patient was not concerning me enough that that one figure would have caused a major problem."

At the hospital, Mr Drummond took Ms Houston to ambulance triage, where patients are sorted according to the severity of their cases.

There, he gave Mr Carreon a Patient Report Form.

Mr Drummond remained at the hospital for another 20 minutes at which point the patient had still not be triaged. The required time is 15 minutes.

Asked why he did not seek out a nurse for an urgent triage, he said he did not have any memory of that night.

Mr Carreon said Ms Houston was registered at 1.02am.

He then triaged another patient while the nurse in charge, Emma Henderson, triaged a drunk woman who was being disruptive and aggressive towards staff.

He also carried out blood tests on other patients.

While still waiting to be triaged, Ms Houston had a seizure at around 1.50am and went into cardiac arrest. She died later that morning.

The inquest at Laganside Court continues today.

Belfast Telegraph

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