Woman left unattended burnt in a hospital shower

A woman died after receiving serious burns to 75 per cent of her body from hot water in a hospital shower, a court has heard.

Jan Mary Proctor, 56, was admitted to the Flinders Medical Centre in February 2008 after she had collapsed at her home several times in the preceding week.

Deputy State Coroner Anthony Schapel is hearing evidence about the circumstances of Ms Proctor's death on February 22 - a week after she was first admitted. The court heard Ms Proctor was suffering from multiple illnesses including alcoholic liver disease and her mobility was severely restricted by the time she was hospitalized. She required assistance to move.

Counsel assisting the Coroner, Naomi Kereru, said before being transferred from one ward to another, a nurse took Ms Proctor to a shower and put her in a shower chair. The nurse left the area and returned up to 10 minutes later to find the bathroom filled with steam. “Ms Proctor was slumped in the shower chair and her skin was noted to be peeling from her chest and stomach,” Ms Kereru said. Ms Proctor sustained burns to 75 per cent of her body and she was transferred to the burns unit at the Royal Adelaide Hospital that day. After going into septic shock, Ms Proctor later died from multi-organ failure.

Ms Kereru told the court a safety alert was issued by the hospital after the incident regarding the hot water and the potential risk to patients. She said the water could reach up to 60C and said there may have been a second incident involving a patient and a hot shower. It was told an alarm in the shower was not working and the shower was not fitted with an automatic temperature regulator. The level of assistance Ms Proctor received while showering was also a concern, Ms Kereru said. “(There is a question as to) whether it was appropriate for Ms Proctor to be left in the shower on a chair for the period that she was,” she said.

In giving evidence today Ms Proctor's sister, Karen Fitzgerald, said she helped her sister move from a chair to her hospital bed, but it was a “gruelling” process and Ms Proctor required constant breaks. “My view was that if something had gone wrong when she was in the shower chair, I don't think she would've had the capacity to sort it out,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “I wouldn't have trusted her level of mobility ... I wouldn't have thought she could be unattended at all.”

The inquest continues.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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