Failure To Diagnose

Headaches are a common symptom of many conditions and almost everyone will experience headaches at some point in their lives. Normally the average headache is nothing to worry about, despite the discomfort you might be experiencing. However, if you get a severe/sudden headache unlike any you have had before, you should always seek medical advice. Sometimes, a headache can be a warning of something serious that needs to be investigated so don’t delay in seeking help.

As I have a long history of chronic sinus infection, I’m well-used to getting headaches. I don’t panic when a headache occurs as I’m familiar with the signs and symptoms of acute sinusitis and have the necessary prescription medications to relieve the pain. However, if I develop a severe headache that I’m not familiar with/it continues to worsen, I will always seek medical advice. If the headache is considered a cause for concern, my GP/specialist will refer me for an urgent CT/MRI scan in order to rule out any serious cause. As I hold private health insurance, I rarely have to wait longer than 24 hours to undergo a scan. If, however, I had no health insurance and was a patient in the public health service, the story could be very different…

THE HSE has apologised before the High Court to the family of a young woman over deficiencies and failures which led to her death from a massive brain haemorrhage. The apology was part of a settlement of court proceedings.

“Louise Butler (21), Cappa Lodge, Sixmilebridge, Co Clare, died at Limerick Regional Hospital on November 16th, 2006, from a large subarachnoid haemorrhage, the court heard. She had worked as a security guard at Shannon airport.

Her family claimed the HSE had failed to properly diagnose she was suffering from the condition when she presented at the hospital just weeks earlier suffering with a serious headache.

Had she been properly diagnosed and referred for treatment after being admitted on October 6th, she would probably have survived, they alleged.

As part of the settlement yesterday of the family’s action for mental distress, the HSE apologised for the anguish and distress caused to the Butlers due to Louise’s tragic death.

The HSE also acknowledged there were failures and deficiencies which led to Ms Butler’s death and accepted her family did everything it could in the circumstances.

The settlement also includes a payment of €40,000 to Ms Butler’s family and was approved yesterday by Mr Justice Michael Peart. The action was brought by her brother James, Cappa Lodge, Sixmilebridge on behalf of the family.

They claimed they suffered mental distress and injury arising from their older sister’s death due to the HSE’s alleged negligence and breach of duty of care. The HSE had denied the claims.

The family claimed Ms Butler’s attended the hospital between October 6th-12th. It was claimed she was ill with a very substantial headache, which she had described as like “a hammer blow” to the back of her head, and photophobia.

She was discharged on October 12th without a CT scan being carried out. She was due to have a CT scan subsequently as an outpatient.

Despite the best endeavours of Ms Butler’s mother and the family GP it was claimed the scan was not arranged until November 13th. It was claimed Ms Butler never got the results of that scan as she collapsed the following day. The scan revealed she suffered a massive bleed in the brain and she died two days later.

It was alleged the HSE had delayed a CT scan which would have alerted medical staff to the existence of her condition. The family claimed their experts would argue, in October 2006, Ms Butler was suffering from a “sentinel” or “herald” bleed, which was a precursor to a large bleed.”

Information Source: The Irish Times 13/07/10

4 Responses to Failure To Diagnose

  1. Annb says:

    This is just too distressing – the problem is that nothing will change – the HSE will cough up the money and no systems will be put in place to stop this from happening again. It’s the way of the HSE maniacal medical roundabout!

    • Steph says:

      Ann – We have to hope that protocol will change as a result of this tragedy. I’ve no wish to distress anyone with this story, as I’m sure you know.

      I was very conscious when drawing attention to this tragic case that it may unsettle those who rely on the public health service alone for medical/surgical investigation. That however was not my intention.

      My aim is to get people talking about headaches and how serious they can be, in the hope that it will encourage someone else to seek urgent help if they are worried by an unusual headache.

  2. Grannymar says:

    We all need to pay attention and listen to our bodies.

    • Steph says:

      Grannymar – I couldn’t agree with you more. I also hope that by highlighting the sad case above, it will encourage others to persist in requesting further investigation if the cause of the headache is not found following initial tests and the headache does not resolve spontaneously.

      Sadly, the wisdom of hindsight in this instance, came too late.

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