It is possible that clinicians have made statements to the police which are “outrageous and indefensible”, its chairman has said.
John O’Hara QC was responding to evidence given by Professor Maurice Savage, a consultant paediatric kidney specialist with ultimate responsibility for the care of Adam Strain.
The four-year-old died at Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children on November 28, 1995, a day after he had undergone a failed kidney transplant.
An inquest found he died as a result of hyponatraemia — a condition which arises when a person receives too much fluid, causing the brain to swell.
Adam’s death is one of five being examined by an independent public inquiry into hyponatraemia-related deaths of children in Northern Ireland hospitals.
In June new evidence cast doubt on testimonies of a number of clinicians.
Notes of a meeting in June 1996 attended by lawyers and doctors including Prof Savage, before the inquest into Adam’s death, have suggested the donor kidney was dead before the end of the operation.
“During the surgery when this kidney was failing to operate, a needle was put into the artery and no blood came out and clearly the kidney was not working when the operation site was closed, however the performance of the kidney was no longer relevant at this stage,” notes stated.
Dr Robert Taylor — the lead anaesthetist during Adam’s operation — has denied he “intentionally or deliberately said anything wrong” during official inquiries into the boy’s death.
In evidence, Prof Savage said it was “not conceivable” to him that “senior surgeons would sit in this court under oath and tell a lie”.
But Mr O’Hara said: “Dr Taylor has come to this inquiry, and he has said here at the inquiry that what he has said previously, including statements he made to the police, were outrageous and indefensible.”
Mr O’Hara said to Prof Savage: “You also think that what he (Taylor) has said previously is outrageous and indefensible, in the sense that he told me you were amazed, when, from the inquiry, you saw what he told police.
“So the idea that senior clinicians may tell or may say things which are indefensible and outrageous is something which is already a matter of record at the inquiry, and that’s exactly the problem I have here. If one senior person in the Royal says things to the police and in various places which are indefensible, why can I not leave open as at least a possibility that other people are doing the same?”
Mr Savage said that while he would not say the note of June 1996 “is entirely wrong... I think perhaps it’s not entirely accurate in certain areas”.
He said he had spoken “briefly” to Stephen Brown, a consultant paediatric surgeon who assisted in the transplant, and Patrick Keane, a consultant urologist and Adam’s transplant surgeon, since notes of the 1996 meeting came to light.
Mr Savage said: “On both occasions, I have to say I asked them if there was any possibility to the truth of the statement that a needle had been put in a kidney, and they both were quite clear to me that it had not happened. I was anxious to know that because that statement disturbed me greatly.”
He pointed to the possibility of a mistake being made during transcription of details.