A man who should have been seen by a doctor within 10 minutes waited for more than seven hours in an emergency unit, a court has been told.
Norman Dunseith (57), a retired hospital porter, died of sudden cardiac arrest at the Mater Hospital in Belfast in the early hours of March 22, 2013, without his family present, an inquest was told yesterday.
He was admitted to hospital with shortness of breath and immediately assessed as requiring "very urgent" care by a nurse, the court heard.
According to the hospital's triage system, he should have been seen by a doctor within 10 minutes. He had been classified as 'Orange' and placed in the second-most urgent category of care.
However, the inquest heard that Mr Dunseith was not seen by a doctor until 4.55am – seven hours and 13 minutes after his admission.
"For any patient to wait for seven hours is below unacceptable standard," said Mr Colin Holburn, an independent consultant in accident and emergency medicine.
Sandra Gilliland, the youngest daughter of Mr Dunseith and his next-of-kin, said: "My daddy was always very patient with hospitals because he was a hospital porter. He was always very calm."
She told the court she received no contact from the hospital while he was being treated. He had sent her home from his side because of bad weather on the night he went to hospital.
She told the court that she had sent a letter of complaint to the Belfast Trust concerning the care her father received.
Mrs Gilliland also said that her father had suffered from chronic lung disease and asthma, and had be admitted to hospital seven times for 14 nights each between January and October 2012.
Dr Jennifer McKew, one of two junior doctors present, said she had been working through patients and had not been asked by nursing staff to see Mr Dunseith before the assessment at 4.55am.
"It did surprise me that he had been waiting such a long time," she told the court.
However, she said that it was not unusual, "especially at night and especially on a very busy night".
Due to demands on the department, two-hourly observations were performed on Mr Dunseith. "There are only so many nurses," staff nurse Sarah Savage said.
Coroner Jim Kitson said, however, that: "Someone not getting any better is as significant as someone getting worse."
Mr Holburn added: "Nurses were not concerned by his lack of improvement and this is sub-standard care.
"Someone should have been saying: 'This guy isn't well, he should be seen by a doctor'."
Mr Dunseith became very unwell in a "rapid slope" of deterioration shortly after the doctors' assessment, the court heard.
The patient had no history of heart illness and denied chest pain to the doctors, but was "very agitated" and attempted to get off the examination couch.
He was sweating and complained of increased shortness of breath, but was able to speak clearly in full sentences.
There was consequently a "significant ramping up" of treatment, according to Dr Simon Graham, who jointly assessed the patient.
He went into full cardiac resuscitation at 5.05am and was pronounced dead at 5.40am.
The hearing is set to resume today.