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Health Minister says 'further steps' will be taken if questions not answered about death of cancer patient with facial wounds

Ultan Meehan, aged 79, had been suffering from dementia and had terminal cancer when he developed facial wounds.

Image: Shutterstock/Diego Cervo

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has committed to taking action if questions about the care of an elderly terminal cancer patient with facial wounds are not answered.

Ultan Meehan, aged 79 and suffering from dementia, was receiving care at Kilbrew Nursing Home in Ashbourne, Co Meath when he was transferred to hospital. His wounds were later found to contain maggots and caused an uproar about the care of elderly patients; the story was first reported by the Irish Times. Ultan later died in hospital.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil at the time that he was “very concerned about that case”, and added that Ultan Meehan’s wife is “entitled to a report at the very least”.

Today, Ultan’s widow Mary Bartley Meehan spoke to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland and called for an independent review of her husband’s death, after not receiving a formal response from Hiqa, the HSE or the Minister for Health.

Mary Bartley Meehan had just received her husband’s medical records, as well as video footage taken of the cancerous facial wounds on her late husband Ultan. The video footage showed his facial wound infested with maggots after his transfer to hospital.

Ultan’s stepson Adrian Bartley, who had Down’s syndrome and dementia, also died in the same hospital earlier this year. Both men had tested positive for Covid-19.

While appearing before the Covid-19 committee, Donnelly was asked by Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd about this case.

O’Dowd said this case is crying out for justice and called for a qualified independent professional to look at the case as a matter of “extreme urgency”.

“It is unacceptable what I understand happened there,” he said. “It is just appalling.”

Donnelly said he shared O’Dowd’s sentiments and offered his sincere condolences to Mary and her family who he said are going through an “extremely difficult time”.

He said Hiqa is currently investigating what happened in the nursing home.

“If I believe Hiqa does not answer the questions the family wish to know, I will intervene,” Donnelly said.

Hiqa, the Health and Information and Quality Authority, is an independent regulator that ensures safe and high-quality care for people in health and social care settings in Ireland, including nursing homes and mental-health units.

O’Dowd said Hiqa could not be the investigator here because “they were the regulator”.

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The only agency of the state that can do this is Hiqa, the minister replied, as “that is the current law”.

“They were the regulator of the [care] home, they didn’t do their job,” said O’Dowd. The minister said in the first instance in cases such as these, Hiqa investigate.

“If I conclude… that very reasonable real and questions from the family have not been answered then we will take further steps,” said Donnelly.

In a statement sent previously to TheJournal.ie, the nursing home said that “Kilbrew Nursing Home, like many others, has been under acute pressure in the midst of the pandemic and its managers and staff have and continue to work extremely hard to deliver the best in care for all of its residents.”

While extending its “sincere condolences to Mrs Bartley Meehan and her family”, it said that it was “not appropriate to go into clinical detail relating to any resident or their treatment.”

“At all times, we work to provide the best of care to every resident, who each have a dedicated GP assigned to them,” the statement said.

With reporting from Christina Finn

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