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Antrim midwife is struck off decade after death of baby Paul O'Neill

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 03/02/2016

Olivia Bell with a picture of baby Paul
Olivia Bell with a picture of baby Paul
Olivia Bell with her children Conor (far left) Ronan and Katie

A midwife whose negligence contributed to the death of a baby in Antrim Area Hospital has been struck off more than a decade after he died, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Evelyn McFadden was finally struck off yesterday after it was established that her lack of care placed both baby Paul O'Neill and his mother Olivia at an "unwarranted risk of harm".

Her actions during the night of his birth in Antrim Area Hospital on November 5, 2005 "decreased" baby Paul's chances of survival, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) hearing said.

The little boy, who was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, died as a result of the "catastrophic negligence" by the lead midwife Heather McComish.

However, the investigation into what happened that night was only triggered after a second baby - five-day-old Matthew White from Antrim who was also cared for by Ms McComish - died a year later.

"We would not have known the truth about the catalogue of errors that night had baby Matthew not passed on," Paul's aunt, Cathy Bell said.

An inquest was held into his death in 2007, but it has taken over 10 years for the two midwives to be disciplined for their role in contributing to the death of the four-day-old.

The original inquest found the midwives failed to spot a drop in Paul's heart rate through the cardiotocograph (CTG) and had they contacted a doctor earlier during the labour, it would have improved the chances of baby Paul surviving.

Ms McComish was struck off last June by the NMC.

A final NMC hearing was held in Belfast yesterday regarding Mrs McFadden, who had helped monitor Olivia during the birth.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph Olivia said: "This is justice, but it will never end for me. It hasn't ended a chapter for me, I don't think it ever will.

"You are always counting down. Is this ever going to be over? It's been over 10 years and people said to me before today I would get closure at the hearing, but I'll never get closure."

A poignant statement read at the hearing on behalf of Olivia, a full-time mum, said: "It has taken over 10 years to reach where we find ourselves today.

"Paul was my firstborn, a much wanted child, who never had the chance to experience anything other than a hospital cot and being wired up to machines.

"We missed seeing him take his first step, deciding which school he would attend, but we will have our memories from those few short days.

"On the night Paul was born we trusted the staff in Antrim Area Hospital to carry out their professional duties. They were found wanting."

And, in astonishing words of kindness, Olivia (38), who was supported by her sister Cathy and Paul's grandmother Vera Heaney, accepted that Mrs McFadden had demonstrated "compassion" after her son's death.

"Do we believe the very serious actions and failings of Mrs McFadden deserve to have her struck off? No we don't, because despite the unacceptable, very serious failings of that night, Mrs McFadden did show some humanity and compassion by sending a card."

During the hearing, which McFadden didn't attend, it was revealed that she had accepted that she had placed both the baby and the mother at "unwarranted risk of harm".

It was read out that McFadden, who retired in 2008, had expressed deep remorse over the death of baby Paul and was aware of the impact his death had on the family over 10 years.

A police investigation had been launched into the incident, but the Public Prosecution Service decided it wasn't in the public interest to pursue criminal charges.

The NMC had also previously apologised for the length of time the process had taken.

Olivia and her partner Paul (senior) have since gone on to have three children, all born at Antrim Area Hospital. But Olivia says her son's death still has a huge impact on her family.

"Paul is always talked about, my other three children [Conor (8), Katie (5) Ronan (3)] know all about him and they will as they grow up.

"I suffered, and I'm still suffering. There are friends who had babies the same time as Paul. I see their kids running around and there are some of my friends who can't be around me."

She added: "I'm thankful for what I have now, but nothing would replace Paul. I suppose I look at my own and think, do you look like him? The what ifs? They are hard."

Olivia also voiced her frustration that no representatives of the Northern Trust attended the hearing.

"I really did think that somebody from the Trust would have been here. It has been going on so long.

"I would just like to think that lessons would be learned. This should never have happened in the first place."

Her sister Cathy (54), from Newtownabbey, added: "During these last 10 years we have wanted justice for Paul. We are glad a decision has been taken by an independent panel with all the information in front of them. They have taken the decision to strike this nurse off. We accept that decision. I think in terms of public interest they are right."

She said they would now want a face to face meeting with the Trust.

Cathy added: "If we can just make sure that this never happens again. This was a catalogue of errors, it should never have happened in a hospital. Paul shouldn't have died."

A spokeswoman for the Northern Trust said: "The Trust wholeheartedly apologises to Ms Bell and her family for the distress caused. The Trust has previously offered to meet with Ms Bell and her family and is happy to meet with them again at any stage should they wish to do so.

"The Trust does not routinely attend NMC hearings."

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