Northern Ireland

Alzheimer's patient Maura Gillen sent to wrong home address by ambulance

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Media captionMaura Gillen was taken into the RVH for a hip operation

An NHS trust has launched an investigation after an 89-year-old patient with Alzheimer's was taken by ambulance to the wrong home address.

Her details had still not been changed two days later, when she was readmitted to hospital after she developed an infection.

Maura Gillen's family has described what happened as harrowing.

Her daughter, Deirdre Burns, said her mother, who was recovering from a hip operation, was missing for 90 minutes.

"The difficulty was that the ambulance crew were completely lost. They had the incorrect address, incorrect next of kin and GP details," she said.

"The only point of contact they had was to take my mother back to the hospital… and that wasn't happening."

In a statement, Belfast Health Trust said it was working with the family "to resolve any outstanding issues".

Mrs Gillen, who lives in a nursing home, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's two years ago.

Extremely concerned

Earlier this month she was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH), Belfast, for a hip operation.

Five days later, her family were shocked when they were told their mother was being discharged, and at 19:30 GMT.

Mrs Burns said she became extremely concerned when after an hour and a half her mother had not turned up at the nursing home - a journey that should have taken 15 minutes.

The family said they decided to go public after hearing a report on the BBC that described how a patient with Alzheimer's was brought by ambulance to Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast at night and left for a short time in the rain.

Mrs Burns said they don't want any other family to go through a similar experience.

"It looked to me that they had lost her - she had been put into an ambulance and it had gone missing," she said.

"I didn't know what to do next. Eventually I got to speak to a nurse on the ward who said my mum had been sent to somewhere called Brooklands.


"I was then told that mum would be brought back to the hospital where later in the evening they would try again."

Mrs Burns said she had pleaded with staff not to discharge her mother so soon after surgery.

Image caption Deirdre Burns had pleaded with staff not to discharge her mother so soon after surgery

She told a ward nurse that under no circumstances should her mother be brought back to the hospital to wait to be taken out again.

"I said that will not happen. Under no circumstances - instead if she was to be brought back to hospital she would be put back into bed and cared for.

"I said 'she's like a child, she will be cold and confused'. But instead the nurse told me that could not happen as there was someone else already in her bed."

The family later learned that the Belfast trust had out-of-date details for their mother, including an old home address, GP details and next of kin.

They also learned that the ambulance crew took Mrs Gillen to the wrong nursing home. A woman who was listed as the next of kin was also contacted.

'Screamed in pain'

The matter was only resolved after Mrs Burns made contact with the ward at the same time as the ambulance crew. Using a nurse as a go-between, she was able to pass on her mother's correct address.

At 21:00, some 90 minutes later, the ambulance arrived at Park Manor Nursing Home in Dunmurry. The journey from the RVH should normally take approximately 15 minutes.

"I believe when she arrived she was in her nightdress. She was cold, confused and the colour of the white blanket she was wrapped in.

"She was anxious, and what was most upsetting was when they lifted her from the stretcher to her own bed, she screamed in pain. It's terribly upsetting to hear your mother scream."

Deirdre and her sister, Michele McAlister, said the episode was harrowing, and that they have no faith in the system.

"We had visions of mum being taken back into hospital and placed on a trolley for the night, a woman in her 90th year with full-onset Alzheimer's after major surgery and after being lost in an ambulance. It was horrific."

Image caption Michele McAlister has called on the health minister to look at her mother's case

The matter did not end there.

'System is broken'

Two days later Mrs Gillen was readmitted after developing an infection. Again her contact details had not been changed, including the nursing home address or her next of kin.

Mrs McAlister said no-one had "joined up the dots" and is calling on the health minister to look at their mother's case.

"It was so upsetting and it was the simple things that all went wrong. It's not the nurses or the medical staff, they did a fabulous job. It was administration - the system is broken and has to be fixed.

"We are calling on the minister to intervene in our mum's case."

A Belfast Health Trust statement said: "We are sorry that Mrs Gillen's discharge did not go according to plan, and that she arrived at her home so late in the evening.

"Her family has raised a number of concerns with us and we are investigating the detailed circumstances of her discharge.

"We have met with them and will continue to work closely with them to resolve any outstanding issues."

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