‘We want to know why Thomas was released from hospital without any proper care plan’
When Thomas Farrell, sometimes known as Thomas, Tom, Tommy or “T-Bone”, sportsman and teacher, died on Saturday 14th August 2021, his death cast a dark cloud of sadness and disbelief over the town of Trim.
A son of Noel and Bridie Farrell and brother of Noel, Frank, Martin, Teresa, Ellen and Moll, he grew up at Griffin Park, a place that provided a childhood filled with many adventures, sporting competitiveness, a unique sense of comradeship borne from a supportive neighbourhood which cultivated childhood friendships which he maintained throughout his life.
His thirst for knowledge, love of the written word, and talent for sport continued from childhood into his adult life. He was part of the Trim GAA’s under-14 hurling team that won the All-Ireland Feile Championship in 2002 and the under-16 county championship in 2003 and was hurler of the year in 2004.
He completed many courses in sports therapy, criminology, social studies and teaching English as a foreign language, and worked over many disciplines including hospitality, sport, construction and insurance while maintaining his stance that fulfilment and passion for life motivated him rather than money.
He is desperately missed by his family who are still seeking answers following his death 17 months ago.
An inquest into his death was conducted last week by Coroner for Meath, Nathaniel Lacy. In a statement by Garda Conor Caffrey, read by Inspector Michael O’Keeffe, it was stated by the garda that he had been called to the scene of a sudden death at Clonylogan, Kildalkey at 19.15 hours. He had been told by a paramedic at the scene that the death of a 32-year-old man had been pronounced. The body of Mr Thomas Farrell had been identified to him by Thomas’ brother Noel.
Noel Farrell told the inquest that about six months before his death Thomas had complained of a pain. He had attended his doctor a number of times and he was told there was no problem. “His mind began to think he had this pain, I believe. Thomas went to a party around this time and while he was there he felt that everyone was talking about him and this made him think he wanted to change his life. From this time the change was unreal in Thomas. He went from carefree to being full of anxiety”.
On Saturday 14th August he had sent Thomas a text but got no response. The reason he had sent the message was because his mother Bridie had failed to make contact with Thomas. He (Noel) rang Thomas about five times but did not get any answer. He then drove to Thomas’ house four miles away and after checking through the house found his brother’s body upstairs.
Consultant pathologist Professor Muna Sabah, who carried out a post mortem, said that a toxicology test had been carried out and it found there was no alcohol or drugs in the man’s system. A prescribed drug was present but this was within therapeutic levels. Dr Sabah said that all the organs were normal.
In reply to questions from the coroner, Thomas’ sister Ellen Rochford said that Thomas had come to her house to talk to her a month prior to his death. He said he had been in touch with Pieta House the previous week. There had been an expression of self-harm and he had been brought by ambulance to Blanchardstown Hospital. She agreed with the coroner that she could trace matters back to the acute event at the party which led to paranoia.
The coroner said that it appeared that from May until his death in August a very acute mental episode had occurred which tragically resulted in his death. Mr Lacy also asked if there had been a recommendation for admission or in-patient treatment and had this been suggested by the family.
Ms Rochford said that on the night Thomas went into Connolly Hospital, he rang four hours into the stay expressing again his desire to commit suicide. The family rang Blanchardstown Hospital and asked to speak to whoever was treating Thomas to express this. They were told they would be called back. No call came. “He was released four hours later without any care plan, without any input from the family. The coroner asked if the family had followed up with any of the providers of medical services to Thomas and Ms Murray replied that they had spoken to a solicitor in order access to Thomas’ medical records after they were initially refused.
He said that as far as recommendations went, it was clear from his own review of the medical records and the evidence he had heard at the inquest there would appear to be questions to be answered in terms of the way Thomas had been treated in particular circumstances where the episode had been very acute and severe.
The family had identified that on the report from the James Connolly Memorial Hospital the risk of suicide wasn’t filled in. That was one recommendation that he could make – that when someone is admitted to James Connolly Hospital and discharged, that in all cases and to prevent future deaths, the section indicating suicide ideation should be completed by the person discharging patients.
In terms of the release of medical information, this was a more difficult area, the coroner said. The question of releasing medical information to the family before Thomas’ death was difficult because the 'controller' of medical records was under an obligation not to disclose the records to anyone else, and the question of the patient’s consent arose. Ms Murray said that she did not think there would be any problem with disclosure because Thomas had been very open with his family and members of the family had accompanied him to at least two GP visits. “I can see that, in fairness to the family, you encouraged him to talk and that’s why I can see your heartbreaking frustration, that this wasn’t something that would be brushed under the carpet. He was encouraged to talk and he engaged with all the treatment providers and the appropriate people”.
The coroner again mentioned the filling out of the discharge form and said that when a patient consents to release information, that that be conveyed to the family for the purpose of caring for the patient at that time.
Ms Murray said: “We appreciate you saying that because as a family we did encourage Thomas to be open. It is fabulous that people are talking more and he did do that. And we are proud of him for doing that but we needed somebody to help us and this was beyond our expertise. He was a huge advocate for mental health. He championed for the underdog and it’s in that spirit that we keep telling his story.” She said that the family appreciated the work the coroner had done. “It’s more than we expected and more than we got so far”.