Head psychiatrist altered suicide victim

October 8, 2010

A doctor is facing a series of charges of professional misconduct after altering medical records of an asylum seeker who took his own life while a patient at the Mater Hospital in Dublin.

Dr Samuel McManus, 31, was working as a senior house officer in the Department of Psychiatry at the Mater as part of his GP training at the time of the death. 

He is charged with seven counts of professional misconduct over claims that he had altered medical records of the patient and had failed to take "radical steps" arising out of a concern that the patient had suicidal thoughts. 

The 47-year-old asylum seeker was admitted to the Mater on April 12, 2008, after trying to take his own life by jumping into the River Liffey from where he was rescued by members of the Dublin Fire Brigade. 

The man, a native of Eritrea who was diagnosed with HIV, had arrived in Ireland earlier that month and had been living at a centre for asylum seekers at Balseskin in Finglas. He had also attended Beaumont Hospital twice in the days before being admitted to the Mater. 

A hearing of the Irish Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Committee was told yesterday that the man had informed Dr McManus on April 13 that he had "a voice in my head – one good, one bad – telling me to hurt myself". 

Dr McManus, who works as a locum GP, admitted he had make retrospective changes to the patient’s medical records and accepted he should not have done so. He has denied, however, that such alterations constituted professional misconduct. 

The IMC committee was told that the changes made to the medical records had significantly altered their meaning. 

It was claimed that Dr McManus had inserted the word "denied" in a space related to the possibility of the patient having suicidal thoughts. He had also altered a note recording that the patient had a "high suicide risk" to read "attempted suicide". 

Dr McManus had agreed to place the man in the Mater’s psychiatric ward following a phone conversation with the hospital’s psychiatric consultant, Prof Patricia Casey. He subsequently placed the patient on the lowest grade of specialist observation whereby his condition was to be checked every 30 minutes. 

The patient was discovered unconscious by staff at 3.50pm on April 13. He died 15 days later in the company of his estranged wife without regaining consciousness. 

The case was adjourned until a later date.

Source: Sean McCarthaigh, "Doctor altered records of suicide victim," Irish Examiner, October 9, 2010.


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