A hospital workers’ union was on the defensive on Thursday after it was revealed that a woman, who had been brought to a Paris hospital in the afternoon for a cut to her foot, was found dead in the waiting room later in the evening.
In the hours in which she sat slumped waiting to receive care, no member of staff had come to check on her.
In a statement the hospital said "it was not clear what happened in the hours that followed", but her death was noted at 11pm that night – a full six hours after she had been brought to hospital by paramedics.
The incident began on Saturday afternoon when the 61-year-old woman was admitted to Cochin Hospital in Paris for an apparently minor injury to her foot. She was seen by a doctor and then returned to the waiting room for about 30 minutes.
She was then called to see a practitioner again at around 5 pm, but failed to show up.
It appears that no member of staff went to check on her to determine whether she was still in the hospital. Instead, her name was simply crossed off the list of patients waiting to be seen, French daily Le Figaro reported.
It wasn't until later that evening that the hospital's night crew finally discovered the woman. They initially thought she was sleeping. But after attempts to wake her failed, they realized she was dead.
Medical examiners have not yet made a final ruling on what killed the woman, but they suspect she suffered a heart attack.
An internal investigation has been launched into her death. For the moment the victims's family have not filed a complaint.
'French emergency centres at breaking point'
The CGT union, which represents workers at the hospital, said the woman’s death was not necessarily the consequence of an error in the woman’s care, but a union chief said lengthy wait times are now a fact of life.
“It’s not right to have to wait six hours in the emergency room, but it has become common,” Hospital union head Marise Dantin told RTL radio.
The CGT chief told French media that emergency room staff have been overwhelmed at Cochin since the closing last autumn of the urgent care department at nearby l’Hôtel-Dieu Hospital.
The closure, according to the union, has resulted in an average of 30 extra patients per day at Cochin. This increase is even more pronounced during weekend rush times.
Union officials also noted the network of emergency centres in the French capital is at the point of implosion as they deal with 50,000 patients per year.
For their part officials from Paris's hospital system, Assistance Public-Hopitaux Publique, said they weren't at fault for the death.
"There was no lack of care. Everything was done correctly: the hospital was fully staffed and the number of patients was average for recent weeks," an official told Le Figaro. "It's serious, but people die every day in the emergency room."
This isn't the first time Paris-area hospital officials have had to explain how a patient's death could have gone unnoticed for so long. In January 2013 a 56-year-old man went to a hospital south of Paris to get an x-ray, but died from a stroke while in a bathroom. His body wasn't discovered until 36 hours later.