Heather Bills inquest: DHB 'sorry' over suspicious death

Heather Bills died in hospital six weeks after a house fire in Ōrākei.

Heather Bills died in hospital six weeks after a house fire in Ōrākei.

A District Heath Board says it's "incredibly sorry" over the suspicious death of Heather Bills in 2013, and regrets not considering the possibility of homicide any earlier.

An inquest is ongoing into how and why a burns victim died six weeks after surviving an explosive fire at her Auckland home.

Bills died while in the care of Middlemore Hospital after suffering an irreversible brain injury caused by a large dose of insulin.

Michele Maher, Heather Bills' daughter has been cross-examining another of witnesses at the inquest herself.

Michele Maher, Heather Bills' daughter has been cross-examining another of witnesses at the inquest herself.

On Wednesday, Counties Manukau District Health Board apologised at the inquest into her death and revealed it wasn't until a number of days later that the possibility of homicide was raised.

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Neighbours rescued the 64-year-old from the inferno at her home in the upmarket suburb of Ōrākei in November 2013. She was admitted to hospital with serious burns.

Six weeks later, however, a fatal dose of insulin took her life.

The person who administered the dose to Bills remains a mystery.

Police have three suspects in their own investigation, all of whom worked in Bills' care.

The acting chief executive of the DHB, Gloria Johnson, who was chief medical officer of the DHB when Bills died, has given evidence at the coroner's inquiry into the death. 

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Questioned by Bills' daughter, Michelle Maher, in the Auckland District Court on Wednesday, Johnson gave an apology.

"I do want to take the opportunity to say how incredibly sorry I am, and I want to apologise on behalf of the DHB," she said.

"This is something that has been exceptionally distressing for all of the staff who were involved.

"There are so many unanswered questions about what happened and we would really like to know, and it's been really hard, that we don't know," Johnson said.

Maher asked why police hadn't been notified of the death until December 31st - four days after Bills' health rapidly deteriorated as a result of the insulin dose.

Johnson said it wasn't until a meeting on Monday, December 30 that the "whole picture started to be put together".

"That was when we were actually thinking, 'gosh as extraordinary as it seems - because this is quite exceptional - this could really be a case of homicide'," she said.

"That's when people thought, well, we've got to make sure we actually secure the blood samples, the glucometers. Of course it was too late by then, but that was the best we could do by then."

Maher asked: "Are you aware of the use of insulin across the world's hospitals for assisted suicides?"

"No," Johnson replied.

"How do you think mum came to getting insulin?" asked Maher.

"I don't know," said Johnson. "I wish I did, but I don't."

 - Stuff

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