Belfast Telegraph

Claire was told that we loved her every day, tearful mum tells probe

By Anna Maguire

The parents of a nine-year-old girl who died in hospital two days after she was admitted have said they told their daughter they loved her every day.

Jennifer Roberts cried as she told an inquiry into her daughter’s death: “Can we just say, we loved Claire? We told her so every day.”

Claire Roberts died on October 23, 1996 — two days after she was admitted for observation to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. Her parents thought she had a tummy bug.

The death of the Castlereagh schoolgirl is one of five being examined by an independent public probe into hyponatraemia-related deaths of children in Northern Ireland hospitals.

Central to the inquiry is the issue of fluid management and hyponatraemia.

Hyponatraemia occurs when there is a low amount of sodium (salt) in the blood stream.

On admission to hospital, Claire Roberts was prescribed intravenous fluids in the form of Solution No 18 — which she continued to receive during her time in the hospital.

Yesterday, Alan Roberts said that in the aftermath of their daughter’s death they were told by doctors a virus in her brain had caused her death.

Asked by the inquiry’s senior counsel if they were told that Claire’s sodium levels had dropped, Mr Roberts said: “No. We were never aware of Claire’s sodium levels. We were never informed of her sodium levels or of the significance of them.”

Meanwhile, Professor Brian Neville, a consultant paediatric neurologist, pointed to Claire’s symptoms and history.

He said he was “astonished” repeat blood tests were not carried out on Claire to establish her sodium levels the day after she was admitted.

Professor Neville — who is an an expert witness to the inquiry — added that doctors treating Claire should have carried out tests — including a CT scan, lumbar puncture and ECG scan — to establish what was wrong with her.

Asked by the inquiry’s chairman, John O’Hara QC, if doctors were “just working in the dark” without carrying out an ECG scan or repeat sodium tests, Mr Neville said: “Yes”.

However, he added that a registrar treating Claire should have been able to speak to a paediatric consultant to seek advice on a diagnosis during a ward round the day before Claire died.

The whereabouts of consultant paediatrician Dr Heather Steen on October 22 and 23, 1996 — when Claire was being treated — is one issue being examined by the inquiry.

Mr Neville added that a consultant paediatric neurologist, while doing the best he could, was pursuing the wrong diagnosis.

He also agreed with John O’Hara’s description of the events of the afternoon before Claire died as “a very unhappy mess”.

Mr O’Hara said: “Dr Webb comes along. You say he’s doing the right thing. He comes back more than once. He’s doing the best he can, but you think he’s on the wrong track.

“Dr Sands, the registrar, has been there. There’s a major question mark about whether he’s back during the afternoon.

“And a major question mark about whether the nurses and the junior doctors really understand what’s going on.”

The inquiry continues.

background

Nine-year-old Claire Roberts died two days after she was admitted to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children on the evening of October 21, 1996. Her death, 16 years ago, is one of five being examined by a public inquiry into hyponatraemia- related deaths of children in Northern Ireland hospitals. Hyponatraemia occurs when there is a low amount of sodium in the bloodstream.

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