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Death midwife Heather McComish still at health trust

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 06/07/2015

Heather McComish
Heather McComish

A midwife whose "catastrophic negligence" led to deaths of two babies in her care is still employed in a Northern Ireland health trust a decade after the tragedies, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The family of one of the babies who died have spoken of their "shock" at discovering that Heather McComish, who was struck off last month, remains a paid employee of the Northern Trust.

Although not working as a midwife - her licence to practise was suspended during investigations - McComish has worked in a clerical position within the trust.

The parents and aunt of baby Paul O'Neill, who died in 2005, have said it now raises questions over information families who experience such trauma are given.

They also asked if providing suspended medical staff continuing employment is "normal procedure" across all health trusts.

A 2007 inquest discovered four-day-old baby Paul died after a catalogue of errors during his birth at Antrim Area Hospital. He died from brain damage as a result of McComish failing to correctly read his heart rate and consequently failing to take action over the abnormal readings.

A year later Dr David White and his wife Karen lost their son Matthew in November 2006.

McComish, who had 20 years' experience at the time, again did not respond correctly to signs of foetal distress on the reading of a cardiotograph (CTG) around an hour before the birth of Matthew.

An inquest into his death was delayed until last year while police investigated the death of baby Paul. Mrs McComish was not prosecuted. Only after the legal proceedings concluded could the second inquest start, which was September 2014.

Once the inquest ended the Nursing & Midwifery Council could act.

On June 19 - eight years after the first inquest was held - she was finally struck off the register.

It is understood the 54-year-old continues to be employed by the Northern Trust until its own internal review is concluded.

Cathy Bell (54), the aunt of baby O'Neill, said his parents Olivia Bell and Paul O'Neill snr have been left frustrated and shocked by the delays and "poor communication" throughout the process.

"We have been shocked to be told she has still been employed by the trust, given that she remained under investigation," Ms Bell said.

Ms Bell, from Newtownabbey, added: "The question for us was, was she still working clinically?

"If not was she working in another aspect in the trust, if so what and was she being paid? We were not told any of this. This is how we found out."

The family said there was now a need for better communication to inform families affected after experiencing such traumas.

"A bigger question is, is this normal practice in Northern Ireland? Is this the protocol of what happens when someone is suspended in a health trust - given other work to do in the trust?

Ms Bell also criticised the length of time the process has taken.

But Ms Bell said despite the tragedy happening 10 years ago, Olivia and Paul, who are now the parents of three, still feel grief.

"Olivia never received an apology from the trust, never one from Heather McComish.

"I think we were told at one meeting the words; 'I'm sorry you feel that way', but for Olivia she does not interpret that as an apology."

Major improvements in maternity provision and midwifery training have been made at Antrim since 2006, according to the trust.

The Royal College of Midwives would not comment on its members, however, it did criticise the delays in the process.

A spokesman for the Northern Trust added: "I can confirm that the trust is aware of this decision by the Nursing & Midwifery Council and is unable to comment further at this time."

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