AN inquiry into the death of a woman who died from burns in an accident in a Kildare nursing home is a learning curve for all of us, an inquest was told.
On 24 February, 2012, Margaret Gaffney (76), died at 11am at Naas Hospital, as a result of what Kildare County Coroner, Dr. Denis Cusack, concluded was an accidental incident the night before.
The deceased woman had been smoking in an outside area at Willowbrook Nursing Home at Borohard, Newbridge. Staff noticed that her clothing had caught fire and had to make frantic efforts to put the flames out.
She was taken to her room in the nursing home before being transferred to Naas Hospital, where she died.
At the inquest in Naas Courthouse on 11 March, questions were raised by Ms. Gaffney’s family, including about training provided to nursing home staff and about the type of clothing worn by patients, in relation to its flammability.
Described as “a very pleasant lady,” the inquest heard that Ms. Gaffney was on medication for various conditions and was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
It also heard staff believed she had, on occasions, smoked in her room, which was against the rules of the nursing home. Before her death, she was smoking in an outside garden and apparently used a paper towel to light a cigarette.
Questions were raised by the family, via Ms. Gaffney’s son, Patrick, about the fire training procedure for dealing with clothes which are on fire and about burns to her night clothes. They were also raised about the presence of mobile panic buttons. The family also questioned the level of medicines Ms. Gaffney had taken.
Evidence was given by an expert witness on the flammability of the type of clothes Ms. Gaffney was wearing in an attempt to establish if there were any lessons to learn from that. It was found they burned quickly.
A report by HIQUA, the inspection body, dated 22 March 2012, is published on its website and was referred to several times during the inquest.
Dr. Cusack said the HIQUA report dealt with a lot of issues including the need to balance safety with the patient’s dignity and privacy. It was very helpful and in the public domain, he said, referring to it on a number of occasions.
A spokesperson for Willowbrook told the inquest it had upgraded its policies and procedures.
At the conclusion, Patrick Gaffney said he was really sorry he had to ask questions of staff and Dr. Cusack noted the accident had been extremely traumatic for staff.
He also said we should be more aware about the flammability of clothing and people should be advised not to wear the less safe material, which would burn quickly.
The report from the pathologist said Ms. Gaffney had a relatively low 33mg blood alcohol reading and the drug elements in her body were consistent with what had been prescribed after she was taken to Naas Hospital.
Death was due to burn injuries.
Dr. Cusack said the tragic incident was “a learning curve for all of us.”
He said he would write to HIQUA regarding the flammability of clothes, the training of staff in relation to fire and garments and the night-time medication.
Dr. Cusack said there had been good co-operation between the Coroner and HIQUA.
Patrick Gaffney thanked everyone involved, including the staff in Willowbrook. “I am sorry if I upset you,” he said.
Dr. Cusack and Garda Inspector Paul Dolan expressed their sympathy to the Gaffney family on the death of Ms. Gaffney, who was described as a “housewife and mother.”