Enda Craig was taken by ambulance to Letterkenny University Hospital at around 1am on May 11, 2019. He was suffering from atrial fibrillation, a condition that induces an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm. The condition can lead to blood clots. When it strikes, the impact of the faster heartbeat can be extremely frightening. It was his fourth time being admitted for this condition. Mr Craig is 74. At the hospital, he was placed on a trolley in a cubicle behind a curtain to await examination.
Various tests were taken while he was in the cubicle. After thirty-eight minutes, he says the curtain was “pulled back by a female uniformed staff member who entered the cubicle and addressed him aggressively”. This was the clinical nurse manager (CNM) on duty. She told him the cubicle was required for another patient. Mr Craig said he was a patient waiting to be examined. The CNM, according to Mr Craig, asked if he was refusing to leave. He agreed to relocate to a row of seats near the nurse manager’s station. The CNM insists she acted entirely professionally in the exchange.
He was moved to a row of seats near the nurse manager’s station.
A report compiled by the hospital on what happened thereafter described how Mr Craig “walked up and down the treatment area of the ED (Emergency Department) on a number of occasions passing close to where the CNM was sitting at her desk”. He “stood and leaned towards the CNM and pointed his finger into her face for 34 seconds.”
The report, based on CCTV footage stated that the CNM “is seen to recoil backwards and lift her hands in a defensive manner.” There was no audio with the CCTV footage, but the report stated that Mr Craig walked past the nurse’s station nine times over the following 15 minutes which “caused a sense of anxiety among members of the clinical staff present in the ED at that time.”
The CNM stated: “I was very anxious and upset at the verbal abuse and the intimidation I had felt while [we were] trying our best within our limited resources to care for the patients and others.”
Mr Craig went home later that morning, his condition having been diagnosed as “low risk”. He made a complaint to the hospital over how he had been treated. The hospital appointed an emergency medicine consultant to investigate the complaint. The consultant compiled a twenty-five page report based on CCTV footage and interviews with a number of witnesses. Mr Craig’s complaint was not upheld and the report presented him as being unreasonable and aggressive. Mr Craig denied this and said that some witnesses had not been interviewed.
There followed a protracted process in which Mr Craig requested a whole raft of documents, many through Freedom of Information. At one point, he received a copy of the CCTV footage.
“I was later told that I never should have got that,” he says. “But I had put in for a lot of stuff and that came back in some of it.”
The footage did not correlate with how it had been analysed and presented in the complaint investigation.
Mr Craig complained to the Ombudsman over how his case had been dealt with. After another protracted period, the Ombudsman reported back to him last December. “We are not entirely convinced that some of the key comments in the hospital’s initial complaint response to you could be supported by the relevant recorded CCTV footage,” investigator Willie O’Doherty reported to him.
The letter went on: “Your calm tenacity – and patience – in pursuing matters and seeking improvements has achieved a positive outcome, not just in terms of you receiving an apology, and the retraction of the initial report, but also in the fact that your complaint has provided an opportunity to put things right for other patients and families.”
A spokesperson for the Saolta Hospital group, of which Letterkenny is a member, said that on foot of the Ombudsman’s request, the group is undertaking a review of the hospital’s complaint handling processes.
“Listening to the experiences of those who use our services can provide unique insights into standards of care and offers opportunities to improve the quality and safety of health services in a way that will deliver measurable benefits for patients and service users.”
Mr Craig has received his apology. His condition has seen him return to the hospital since the fateful night of May 2019.
“I got on fantastic,” he says of the visit.
“I sent a letter to the hospital afterwards thanking them.”