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Complaint to Ombudsman after man 'distressed' over hearing instrument noise during surgery

The Ombudsman received more than 3,300 complaints about public services last year.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Gorodenkoff

COMPLAINTS FROM THE public to Ombudsman Peter Tyndall about public services rose by 11% in 2018, according to his annual report for 2018. 

The Ombudsman received more than 3,300 complaints about public services last year. 

The largest number of complaints was in relation to services provided by government departments (1,065). 

Complaints about local authority services (879) and health and social care services (730) accounted for most of the remaining complaints. 

The health and social care sector saw the largest increase with 122 more complaints received in 2018 than in 2017. 

The Ombudsman investigates complaints from the public about almost all providers of public services as well as third-level education bodies, private nursing homes and direct provision services.

Surgery noise

In one case study in today’s report, a woman complained to the Ombudsman that while her father underwent surgery in Limerick University Hospital, he could hear the noise of the instrument used for his surgery. 

This caused him distress, the report noted. 

The report outlined that as the man was not a suitable candidate for a general anaesthetic, he had surgery under a “spinal block”. This meant that he was awake during the operation. 

The hospital said that staff offer headphones and music to patients undergoing surgery under regional anaesthesia involving loud surgical instruments. However, it could not say whether this offer was made to the patient during his procedure. 

Examination of the medical and nursing notes found no record of the patient being offered, or using, headphones. 

The hospital apologised to the patient for the experience, the report noted. 

It acknowledged that the incident had increased the stress for the patient. 

The hospital purchased disposable earphones for use by patients during surgery involving regional anaesthesia. In addition, staff have been documenting the offer of earphones and music, and the patient’s response.

Stroke confusion

In another case study, one word accidentally left out of a doctor’s letter resulted in a man believing he may have had a stroke when he had not.

In the incident, the man had experienced symptoms that led him to believe he had suffered a stroke. He had brain scans carried out in Tallaght Hospital and was told that nothing showed up on his scan. The man and his GP sought a second opinion from Beaumont Hospital, and he had a number of tests done here, according to the report. 

However, he experienced difficulties getting doctors in the hospital to review his scans from Tallaght Hospital. The man complained to Beaumont Hospital about these difficulties.

Beaumont Hospital, according to the report, replied to the man apologising for the difficulties he had experienced. The hospital said that the brain scans showed evidence of a previous stroke but it could not confirm whether he had had a stroke or not.

The man was upset at the response and complained to the Ombudsman that he could not get a clear answer as to whether he had suffered a stroke in the recent past.

The Ombudsman noted that it cannot examine “clinical judgement” such as diagnosis and therefore could not direct the hospital to review the man’s scans. The Ombudsman‘s examination focused on the communication between the hospital and the patient.

The Ombudsman, in its examination, found a “significant typing error” in the man’s report - the doctor in Beaumont Hospital had made reference to the man’s brain scans showing evidence of a previous stroke, the word “not” had accidentally been omitted from the letter.

The administrative error had understandably caused distress and confusion to the man, the report noted.

The Ombudsman requested that a suitable medical professional from Beaumont Hospital contact the man to account for the typing error and explain the results of his scans.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, Beaumont Hospital said: ”Beaumont Hospital cannot comment on individual patient cases due to patient confidentiality. If patients or their families have concerns about care received in Beaumont, they are advised to contact the hospital’s Patient Advisory Liaison Service.”

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