Case Studies: Healthcare

Inquest – Stephen McElroy (Deceased)

Patrick Mullarkey of O’Reilly Stewart Solicitors acted on behalf of the parents of Stephen McElroy who collapsed and died in Daisy Hill Emergency Department from a bowel obstruction in March 2015, some 6 hours after having been discharged.

At an Inquest which proceeded on Thursday 1st June 2017, the Southern Health & Social Care Trust admitted that there were a number of missed opportunities to correctly diagnose him.

Stephen McElroy, then aged 11 years, started to complain of abdominal pain on Friday 27th March 2015.  His pain and discomfort persisted during the course of Saturday 28th March.  Stephen felt nauseous and vomited for most of the day.  Stephen’s mother, Mrs McElroy, decided to bring her son to the Emergency Department of Daisy Hill Hospital at around midnight that night.

There was a delay of 6 hours between his arrival at the Department and his consultation with the Doctor, Dr Aine Mullan.  During those hours Stephen’s condition deteriorated.

At around 6 am Dr Mullan misdiagnosed him as having constipation, and he was discharged with medication to help his condition.  At approximately 8 am, having taken the medication and once again having vomited, Mrs McElroy contacted the Emergency Department and spoke again to Dr Mullan.  Instead of advising the family to return to the Department, she counselled that Stephen take the medication again and be permitted to rest.  His condition continued to deteriorate and the family made their own decision to return to the Emergency Department.  Unfortunately it was too late.  Stephen collapsed upon his arrival at the Department, and despite the best efforts of staff present, he passed away later the same afternoon.  May he rest in peace.

Having heard the evidence from the family, Dr Aine Mullan, the Charge Nurse and 2 independent experts in Emergency Department practise, the Coroner concluded that the care provided to Stephen McElroy at the time of his attendance was “wholly inadequate”.  He found that there was a failure to comply with the statutory waiting time.  There was a failure by Dr Mullan to correctly diagnose Stephen’s condition despite the diagnostic information being available.  Furthermore there was a failure on the part of Dr Mullan to acquire further information, by means of testing an evaluation, to permit the diagnosis to be made.  The Coroner indicated that he “comfortably concluded” that Dr Mullan did not properly consider bowel obstruction.  He found that an x-ray should have been performed at the time of Stephen’s attendance, and he agreed with the independent experts that Stephen was becoming increasingly unwell during the course of his admission to the Department.  He also agreed with the experts that treating medical personnel should have followed up a urine test which revealed a deteriorating position.  He found, as a matter of fact, that Stephen ought to have been admitted and assessed.  He also agreed with the conclusion expressed by one of the Coroner’s experts, Prof Plunkett, that had he been admitted, he would probably have survived.

On considering the Trust’s position, the Coroner noted that there was a failure by the public authority to ensure sufficient senior staff were present at the time of the care.  The Coroner noted that a number of protocols had been put in place by the Trust, after the incident, in an effort to avoid the repetition of a similar incident.

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