Belfast Telegraph

Child death statements by nurse challenged

BY LESLEY HOUSTON

A nurse in charge of the ward in which a girl had been treated before her unexpected death just days after an appendectomy has been challenged on whether her grieving parents were provided with "honest" answers over the events leading to the tragedy.

Sister Elizabeth Millar had been nurse manager of the children's ward at Altnagelvin Hospital in which nine-year-old Raychel Ferguson had been a patient in June 2001.

Yesterday, on the second day of the governance phase of the Inquiry into Hyponatraemia Related Deaths, she admitted she could not account for some of her statements made at meetings in the days after the child's death.

Questions over the accuracy of her statements arose following a Critical Incident Review (CIR) meeting at the hospital on June 12 when Medical Director of the Altnagelvin Hospitals Trust – now the Western Trust – Dr Raymond Fulton, recorded Sr Millar as saying an electrolyte test should have been carried out the day after the appendectomy.

The sister's comment, which she said she cannot recall making, followed the child's failure to follow the normal recovery path, when instead of beginning to take liquids and eventually eating later in the day, she vomited on a number of occasions.

The inquiry heard that it was accepted at the CIR meeting that the vomiting had been both "prolonged and severe", prompting the need for the electrolyte test – which would have detected dangerously low sodium levels, a factor in the hyponatraemia which was a factor in her death.

The inquiry heard, however, that in a statement made by Sister Millar, she said: "Raychel's death was totally unexpected because she was was recovering very well on Friday."

Chairman John O'Hara asked "How did that come to be written", given Raychel's deteriorating condition that day, plus the fact that the child's severe sickness was "consistent" with the call for the electrolyte test.

Mrs Millar admitted: "I would agree that statement is not right."

Counsel for the Inquiry John Stewart QC asked: "Have Mr and Mrs Ferguson had honest answers?"

Mrs Millar conceded: "I have no answer for that but I would not try to tell untruths."

The inquiry also heard from the consultant who had been on call at the time of Raychel's death, who had never seen the child or her parents at any time.

Surgical consultant Robert Gilliland admitted he failed to inform Raychel's GP of her death, and only did so when they "bumped into each other" one day following the death.

BACKGROUND

The Hyponatraemia Inquiry is investigating the events surrounding the deaths of Raychel Ferguson, Adam Strain, Claire Roberts and the events following the death of Lucy Crawford. It is also examining matters arising from the death of Conor Mitchell. The probe is examining the management of fluids given to the children who died between 1995 and 2003. Hyponatraemia is a drop in the body's sodium levels which can be caused by a fluid imbalance.

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