An elderly woman’s visit to the hairdresser’s ended in tragedy after a fall at the salon resulted in a fatal head injury, an inquest has heard.
The hearing in Belfast also heard how shortcomings in the care received by 80-year-old Brigid Heagney at the Royal Victoria Hospital led to an internal investigation and significant changes in emergency department procedures.
Mrs Heagney, of Dungannon Road in Cookstown, suffered sub-dural haematomas (bleeding on the brain) as a result of the incident at the Blow Dry Bar on Belfast’s Lisburn Road on November 2, 2013.
Mrs Heagney’s daughter, Anne-Marie McCrum, told coroner Joseph McCrisken her mother had slipped on a wet floor at the salon, but the shop manager later gave evidence that the floor was dry at the time.
Trudy Stanfield of the Health and Safety Executive NI said the salon was inspected following Mrs Heagney’s fall and subsequently fined a total of £900 for five breaches of safety regulations – including a finding that the steps and tiles in the premises presented a risk to both employees and customers.
“The tiles were fine when dry but when they were wet they were very slippy,” Ms Stanfield said.
Mrs Heagney was taken to the emergency department of the RVH where her daughter repeatedly stressed concern that her mother had suffered a heavy blow to her head – and had a higher risk of serious consequences due to the blood-thinning medication (Warfarin) she was taking.
However, with all of Mrs Heagney’s vital signs initially relatively normal, she was assessed as a ‘Category 4’ risk – who should be seen by a doctor within two hours of triage – rather than the more appropriate ‘Category 2’ meaning a recommended wait of no more than ten minutes.
The coroner noted that it was three hours and twenty-five minutes (at 8.25pm) before the results of the blood test were known.
The most senior doctor on duty at the time, Dr Daniel McAleese, was asked if he thought Mrs Heagney’s outcome would have been better with earlier, appropriate intervention.
He said: “There would have been a better chance, but whether that chance would have been significantly better I don’t know.”
Coroner Mr McCrisken said: “There were deficiencies in the treatment of Mrs Heagney. I am satisfied now, having listened to Dr Maxwell, that some of the practises are being examined in light of this case.” Mr McCrisken found that Mrs Heagney died as a result of falling down two steps at the hairdressing salon, striking the left side of her head and her left arm.