The daughter of a man with dementia who died after being pushed by another patient in a care facility, has said her family has been let down by authorities.
John O’Reilly died a week after sustaining a head injury at a dementia care unit in County Armagh.
The 83-year-old was pushed twice by the same patient in the days leading up to the fatal incident.
His family were not made aware of this until after his death.
In a statement the Southern Trust said: “The tragic circumstances of Mr O’Reilly’s death have been subject to an inquest process, which the trust fully participated in and which concluded his death was a tragic accident.”
‘Dad deserved to die peacefully’
Mr O’Reilly’s family said they only discovered about previous pushing incidents during the police investigation that followed their father’s death.
His daughter Maureen McGleenon said the Southern Trust told them about the previous incidents at a meeting, weeks after their father had died.
She said: “I couldn’t believe it, especially because they had happened only days before the push that led to dad’s fatal injuries.
“We had called the unit every morning during this time period and various family members visited dad over that time frame, so there were ample opportunities to tell us this had happened.
“If we had known that dad had been pushed twice before, we can say with total assurance that we would have taken him home where he would be safe.
“We’re heartbroken, dad deserved to die peacefully.”
Mr O’Reilly, a former Ulster GAA chairman, was a father of seven.
His daughter said they had grown up in a very happy home.
“He was married to mum for 55 years and had 15 grandchildren.
“He loved the GAA, there were times he would travel to Cork and Kerry for a day, just to see a match. That was dad.”
After being diagnosed with dementia a number of years ago, Mr O’Reilly was referred to the Gillis Unit in November 2018 on the grounds of St Luke’s Hospital in County Armagh.
It is a specialist ward for people who have dementia or who are being assessed for dementia symptoms and is run by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust.
On 4 December 2018, Mr O’Reilly was pushed by another dementia patient causing him to hit his head off a wall. His family have said he was pushed with such force that it left a dent in the wall.
He was admitted to Craigavon Area Hospital with severe head injuries and died a week later.
The inquest heard evidence that the patient, referred to as Mr Y, had pushed staff and patients in a previous nursing home and had threatened to kill his wife.
It also heard that Mr Y had pushed Mr O’Reilly twice on 30 November in the Gillis Unit, which led to him being medicated and placed on close one-on-one observation.
On 4 December, Mr O’Reilly and Mr Y met in the doorway of a corridor in the unit, a nurse was behind Mr Y at the time when Mr O’Reilly was pushed.
Concluding the inquest, the coroner said the fatal push happened by “pure chance” and was a “tragic accident”.
Following Mr O’Reilly’s death, Mr Y was sectioned on mental health grounds and has since died.
Maureen McGleenon said her family still have many questions that remain unanswered.
“Dad couldn’t tell us anything because of his dementia, we relied 100% on the health trust staff to tell us how he was.
“We found out things through the inquest, including the fact that there wasn’t a formal written risk assessment carried out with dad after the first two pushing incidents on him.
“We also didn’t know until the inquest that Mr Y had been considered a high risk to patients in the care home where he had been a resident of preceding his placement in Gillis.
“To say that dad’s death was only a tragic accident has devastated us to be honest. We’re completely gutted by it.
“Instead of dying peacefully as was his right, dad died a violent death.”
The Southern Trust is carrying out as Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) investigation into Mr O’Reilly’s death.
Maureen McGleenon said: “Our experience of the SAI process has been dreadful. In our view it allows the trust to park the fact that something catastrophic has happened to a family.
“We were told it would be a 12-week process. It’s over a year now and we’ve expended so much energy trying to figure out this process and find things out for ourselves.
She added: “The system just knocks you down and makes you want to give up.
“We’ll never get over what happened to dad and we can’t give up on trying to understand it.”
A spokesperson for the Southern Trust said: “An SAI review has been conducted by an independent chair and independent panel members external to the trust, which unfortunately can take longer to complete, due to complexities of managing the time and availability of the expert members.”