Grieving family accuses hospital

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2012, 12:00am


Relatives of a previously healthy elderly man who died two days after being treated in a Kowloon hospital say he was discharged too soon and misdiagnosed.

Punnamali Swamy, 76, had injured his spine in a fall in his bathroom. He was treated in Queen Elizabeth Hospital for five days and discharged on March 23.

But he was taken back to hospital the next morning as he was losing consciousness and having difficulty breathing. He died in hospital at about midnight.

'There was mismanagement which we saw with our own eyes. It was a total injustice to us,' said his son, Rajsekar Swamy, 43, a businessman based in Hong Kong.

Swamy has complained to the hospital, which referred the case to the coroner's court to determine the cause of death. He told the South China Morning Post that his father was weak and vomiting when he was released from hospital on March 23.

'The nurse said, 'So many patients are waiting with serious cases. Your father can sit, so he can leave.' But my father was not talking and he was vomiting,' Swamy said.

His father left the hospital in a wheelchair and had to be lifted into a taxi, he said.

But the hospital said the elderly man was able to walk using a walking frame and noted that his son had not raised any concerns when they discharged his father.

Swamy says the problem would have been found if his father had been properly tested. The discharge slip stated, 'contusion of trunk and back', in the diagnosis column. His father was feeling pain near his heart and liver and had been unable to eat or drink since he was admitted to the hospital - problems, Swamy said, that staff ignored.

The hospital statement said the man was treated for a spinal injury and also underwent blood tests and a kidney ultrasound during the five days he was in the orthopaedic ward. A lung X-ray showed no sign of pneumonia.

Swamy said when his father was taken back to hospital, a doctor told him it was pneumonia and that the failure to identify the illness earlier amounted to negligence. There were no beds available in the intensive care unit so his father was not admitted, Swamy said.

The hospital did not confirm whether the man had pneumonia.

Swamy says he wants the doctors involved to be brought to justice. 'I don't want this thing to happen to any other father,' he said, adding that it was not a communication problem, as all the doctors and nurses at the hospital spoke excellent English.

'His death was so sudden it was very difficult for my mother to accept,' he said. Swamy's two younger sisters live in Dubai and the United States and were unable to make it to Hong Kong in time to say goodbye.

The couple moved to Hong Kong 12 years ago to join their son. Kusum Swamy, 68, said her husband had always been a healthy and active man, exercising every day on the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Symptoms of pneumonia can vary and it is sometimes difficult to identify. Acute pneumonia can develop within 24 hours in some cases. It is a common cause of death among elderly people, said Dr Leung Chi-chiu, a council member of the Hong Kong Public Doctors' Association.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital has expressed its condolences to the man's family and said it had been in touch with them regarding their complaint and would co-operate with the coroner's court's investigation.

His death was so sudden it was very difficult for my mother to accept Rajsekar Swamy