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Former Belfast health boss says sorry for failings faced by current trust in England

By Lisa Smyth

Published 19/10/2016

Colm Donaghy headed the Belfast, Northern and Southern Health Trusts
Colm Donaghy headed the Belfast, Northern and Southern Health Trusts

The former chief executive of the Belfast Health Trust has apologised after the mental health trust he now heads up in England came under fire for failing to act when a number of patients made threats to kill.

Colm Donaghy held a series of high profile roles in the health service in Northern Ireland, including chief executive of the Belfast, Northern and Southern trusts, before taking up the post of chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in 2014.

The findings of a review linked to Sussex Trust patients between 2007 and 2015 were published yesterday and said the organisation underestimated the risk patients posed and sometimes did not act on threats to kill.

The review, of what is one of England's largest mental health trusts, was launched following the stabbing to death of Donald Lock (79) by Matthew Daley in 2015.

Daley, who had been under the care of the trust at the time, was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility after stabbing Mr Lock 39 times following a two-car crash on the A24 in Findon, West Sussex.

During the trial, jurors were told Daley's mother had pleaded with mental health experts to have her son sectioned. The review looked at nine killings committed by patients of the trust and the case of one patient who was killed while under the care of the trust.

Mr Donaghy, who has amassed a pension pot worth up to £1.3m, yesterday said sorry for the failings identified by the review, which he said had been requested by the trust to ensure everything has been done to learn from the tragedies.

It is not the first time Mr Donaghy has been forced to speak out, having been at the helm of a number of health trusts in Northern Ireland as they faced criticism over the years.

His departure from the Belfast Trust in 2014 came at a time of severe pressures on emergency services in the city. It was revealed that the deaths of five patients in the Royal Victoria Hospital's A&E in 2013 may have been due, in part, to them not being treated quickly enough.

The then Health Minister, Edwin Poots, intervened and put the Belfast Trust in 'special measures'. At the time the five deaths were made public, Mr Donaghy said he would not resign and would continue to do the job as best he could.

In 2013, he gave evidence at the Hyponatraemia Inquiry and apologised for the "pain and suffering" experienced by the families of the children whose deaths were being investigated by the child fluid death inquiry.

Mr Donaghy said communication with the families had not been sufficiently transparent and he was "deeply sorry" for the role the Belfast Trust played in prolonging the agony of the families.

He was also head of the Belfast Trust during the pseudomonas outbreak at a number of hospitals in Northern Ireland in January 2012, which was linked to the death of three babies at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

At the time, Mr Donaghy said that the "first priority is the safety of the babies and ensuring the work that we do keeps babies safe".

In October 2010, he gave evidence to the C Difficile Inquiry in which he said the outbreak of the killer bug was handled well given the pressure staff were under.

He told the inquiry into the outbreak that he believed the trust still had a good reputation.

Thirty-one people died as a result of the outbreak in the trust area between June 2007 and August 2008.

Belfast Telegraph

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