Dead man's family says hospital ignored him

Relatives of 84-year-old claim he died because staff neglected a bedsore on his back that became infected ulcer the size of a tennis ball

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 4:38am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 4:38am

The family of an 84-year-old man who died after contracting a badly infected bedsore may sue a public hospital that they accuse of gross negligence.

Staff at the Yan Chai Hospital in Tsuen Wan neglected a small wound on Yuen Chung-kun's back, his children say.

They say it developed into a tennis ball-sized ulcer with a bacterial infection that caused his death.

"We will consult a lawyer and consider legal action against Yan Chai Hospital," Yuen's son Alan Yuen Han-chi said yesterday. "This is a serious mistake which is unforgivable."

But the hospital rejected the allegations, saying a Hospital Authority investigation had found them unsubstantiated, apart from a failure to inform the family about Yuen's condition, for which it apologised.

Yuen was admitted on January 24, 2013, with fever and a urinary tract infection after spinal surgery at a private clinic. He was kept in hospital for 21 days before being discharged to an elderly care home.

Daughter Jenny Yuen Siu-yung said Yan Chai staff had failed to clean, disinfect and treat her father properly, resulting in his bed sore deteriorating into a stage 4 pressure ulcer - the most severe type of infection.

She said the family had never been told about the ulcer and was shocked to find it in such a condition after her father left hospital.

Yuen, who had a history of diabetes, hypertension and obesity, was sent for treatment at the private Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital and died eight months later from sepsis, she said.

Her brother said the family would also report several doctors involved in the treatment to the Medical Council for professional misconduct.

A spokesman for the hospital said staff took a series of measures to treat the ulcer, including regular repositioning of the patient, regular cleaning of the wound and nutritional and dietary support.

But due to the patient's own condition and the fact that he was "not very cooperative" towards the treatment, the 5cm by 8cm ulcer had grown since his admission to 8cm by 12cm, he said.

After the family complained, the authority's public complaints committee investigated and dismissed five of the six allegations put forward by the relatives - accepting only that the hospital had failed to inform them of the patient's condition. Other accusations - including that staff did not move Yuen frequently, did not change his diapers for a long time and did not take care of the ulcer - were deemed "unsubstantiated".

The committee said the hospital had already apologised for the communication problem and urged its staff to prevent misunderstandings in the future.

But Jenny Yuen said the committee's conclusion had not been fair and they would seek legal action against the hospital.

She also rejected the notion that her father's lack of cooperation was a factor.

"My father was old and very weak. He was bed-bound and most of the time was unconscious. There was no way he was able to keep resisting the treatment," she said.

Health-services legislator Joseph Lee Kok-long said he was shocked that the hospital had discharged Yuen when the condition of his open wound was so bad.

He added that medical staff were trained to handle patients even if they were resisting treatment, such as restraining them if necessary.