Belfast Telegraph

Man lost his sight due to medics’ slow response, Ombudsman rules

Antrim Area Hospital, where the complainant was a patient
Antrim Area Hospital, where the complainant was a patient
Marie Anderson.
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

A Northern Ireland man has received an apology after a watchdog concluded that the slow response of health staff led to him losing his sight.

An investigation found failings in the way that medical and ophthalmology staff responded to the man's eye condition while he was a patient at Antrim Area Hospital.

The man's daughter complained to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) that her father would not have gone blind had the seriousness of his condition been spotted earlier.

The case is detailed in a new bulletin from the watchdog.

It outlines the investigation, describing how relevant documentation on the patient's treatment was obtained.

Independent professional advice was also sought to help in the assessment of the clinical judgment of the health professionals involved in the patient's care and treatment.

This advice stated that when the patient's condition was first spotted, it was not given an appropriate assessment by staff.

Given the seriousness of some red-eye conditions, the independent adviser stated that it potentially needed to be referred to the eye casualty department.

The advice further stated that when the patient was seen by ophthalmology staff three days later, due to the man's other serious health conditions, they made the correct decision not to give him intra-vitreal antibiotics - a technique requiring an injection to the eye.

However, this decision should have been reviewed the next day. Instead, the review was arranged as a routine appointment for nine days later.

After considering all the evidence, the ombudsman concluded that the ongoing significance of the patient's developing red-eye condition should have been further and sooner investigated and escalated.

She found:

  • There was a failure by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust to appropriately assess and seek timely expert advice regarding the patient's eye condition. This failure continued after the initial inadequate assessment as several other doctors and consultants examined or reviewed him.
  • The system in place at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust for handover, referral, prioritisation and monitoring of patients did not ensure that he was reviewed as a priority.
  • An earlier diagnosis would have ensured that antibiotics were given at the appropriate time and this would have much improved the chances of the patient retaining his vision.

The ombudsman recommended that the complainant should receive a written apology for the failures identified in the report and £1,000 in compensation.

The ombudsman also made a series of recommendations to the two health and social care trusts involved in the case, in particular that they jointly conduct a review of the ophthalmology service provided to patients in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, focusing on eye casualty and inpatient referral.

A spokesperson for the northern trust said: "We deeply regret the outcome for this gentleman and have responded to the recommendations made by the ombudsman."

The Belfast trust said: "The trust has worked jointly with Northern Trust to review the NIPSO findings and to implement the recommendations."

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