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Why are woman waiting for sister's medical notes three years after death in Northern Ireland hospital?

Exclusive New row over delayed files at hospital judge has threatened to shut

By Donna Deeney

Published 24/11/2016

Mary Higgins (left) and Kathleen Hart with a picture of their late sister Patricia Brolly
Mary Higgins (left) and Kathleen Hart with a picture of their late sister Patricia Brolly
Hospital death: Patricia Brolly

Two women have hit out after being left waiting for more than three years for a health trust to hand over their dead sister's medical notes.

Patricia Brolly died in Altnagelvin's intensive care unit in August 2013.

Three weeks later siblings Kathleen Hart and Mary Higgins submitted a request for paperwork relating to her care.

They had asked the Western Trust's medical records department for the files as part of an official complaint about treatment Mrs Brolly was given earlier in 2013 as a patient in a different ward.

While Mrs Hart and Mrs Higgins did receive some of the records, the pertinent notes relating to her care in ward two were missing.

They are unhappy with the hospital's explanation that the notes are "missing", as it could impact on their ability to pursue their complaint.

They came forward days after a judge spoke of his frustration with the department.

Speaking at Londonderry Magistrates Court last Friday, District Judge Barney McElholm threatened to close Altnagelvin Hospital over lengthy delays in the handing over of medical records requested as part of a court case.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Hart explained: "Our sister Patricia, who had a lot of medical problems like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, was admitted to ward two with cellulite, which is a painful skin infection.

"She was in so much pain it was difficult to even look at her, but even though she was begging the staff on the ward for breakthrough pain relief, they consistently refused.

"Breakthrough pain relief is given in between other pain relief. Patricia was a nurse and she was well aware of what was available, but her pleas for help fell on deaf ears.

"The level of pain she said she was in was dismissed by the nurses who were supposed to be caring for her, and Patricia felt she had no choice but to sign herself out.

"She managed her pain at home with the help of her GP but her condition continued to deteriorate and she developed sepsis."

Patricia was readmitted into Altnagelvin in July.

Mrs Hart added: "She went to ward five but was quickly transferred to the high dependency unit (HDU), and then on to the intensive care unit (ICU), where she died in August."

She said they have no issue with the care Patricia was given in either ward five, HDU or ICU, but were not happy at how she was treated in ward two.

"We decided to lodge the complaint because Patricia deserved better, everybody deserves better," Mrs Hart added.

"But we thought we were stuck because the crucial notes from Patricia's stay in ward two can't be found.

"It is interesting that the rest of her notes are here, we have a copy of them."

As part of their attempts to get their sister's files from ward two, Mrs Hart and Mrs Higgins met with a number of key personnel from the Western Trust.

In April 2015 a letter to them from trust chief executive Elaine Way confirmed the existence of the notes and assured the sisters that periodic searches for them will continue.

In the letter, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Way wrote: "Mr J Foster, Head of Records and Information Governance, had advised that the missing volume of notes was available and photocopied at one stage so there is no reason to believe that the information has been disposed of."

Mrs Higgins said that while she and her sister felt totally deflated by the trust's continued failure to locate the missing notes, they have been inspired by Judge McElhom.

She said: "That letter was the last word we had from the trust - that was over 18 months ago.

"When I read what Mr McElhom said in court I realised that we are not the only ones, but he has more clout than we do, so we hope that he can shake the place up and our sister's notes will soon be located."

A spokesman for the Western Trust said: "The trust had been in communication with the family, and will continue to keep them informed of progress. The Western Trust cannot comment on individual cases."

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