Six Suðurnes patient deaths under investigation

24.11.2021 - 13:55
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 Mynd: RÚV - Freyr Arnarson
Suðurnes police are investigating the deaths of six patients at the regional hospital which it is believed could have been untimely deaths caused by criminal acts. The treatment of five other patients is also under investigation, as police have supported suspicions they were put on end-of-life medication without good cause and were therefore put in danger.

This is revealed in court papers following the verdict of the Reykjanes District Court, agreeing with a police application for the appointment of two court assessors to answer four questions connected to the death of one of the patients. The Landsréttur appeals court confirmed the lower court’s decision earlier this week.

The patient’s relatives brought formal complaints against staff of the HSS hospital to the police this February, though according to court papers, only two staff are official suspects: one doctor and one other healthcare worker. 

The assessors are asked to determine the cause of the patient’s death, whether there was cause to enter palliative care and its working processes and implementation were followed, whether medication administered to the patient was normal, and whether the patient’s diagnosis was correct. 

Both suspects objected to the request for an assessment. The healthcare professional believed that the damage caused by the case should be considered and whether the case could be investigated without an assessment. The assessment process causes harm and damage. He was not mentioned in the expert opinion that the Directorate of Health compiled in connection with the patient's death and the Directorate did not take any action against him. 

The doctor said the wording of the request for assessors would not allow for them to be properly assessed, and that it was also not clear precisely what the police hoped to prove with the assessment. 

The police suspect the doctor of breaking articles 211, 213, 215, and 220 of the criminal code and a provision of the law on healthcare workers. The healthcare worker is suspected of breaching article 220,  and the law on healthcare workers. 

The court papers state that the police have the professional opinions of two independent experts on record; both carried out on the request of the Directorate of Health. One was on the work of the doctor and was carried out following notifications from other staff over patient care and is dated 27th October 2020. The other is an independent assessment of complaints from the relatives of the patient the court-appointed assessors have been asked to answer the four questions on. 

The district court papers state that the independent medical opinion concluded the doctor showed serious gaps in professional knowledge that threatened patient safety. The latter assessment concluded that neglect occurred during the provision of healthcare to the patient. 

The court papers go on to state: “In the case, the deaths of six individuals are being investigated that might be considered premature and brought about by criminal means. The police are also investigating the treatment of five other patients where there are supported suspicions they were registered for end-of-life treatment on [...] without cause and therefore their safety was threatened.” 

The papers reveal that the chief of Suðurnes police last November received a notification from the head doctor about the work of the doctor in question. The police believe that notification represented the reporting of cases for investigation relating to three patients. 

The police have also received information from the relatives of three additional patients who died following palliative treatment in 2018 to 2020. It is stated that the police chief asked the district court to request an opinion from the Directorate of Health over the deaths of two further patients. 

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Alexander Elliott
Fréttastofa RÚV