Belfast Telegraph

Mother seeks new PSNI probe into child deaths

BY ANNA MAGUIRE

The mother of one of five children who died in a Northern Ireland hospital has called on the PSNI to reinvestigate their deaths.

Belfast Health Trust yesterday apologised for the first time to the families of all the children, who died in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC) between 1995 and 2003.

Belfast Trust's chief executive, Colm Donaghy (below), read out the health trust's apology during the ongoing public inquiry into the deaths of Adam Strain, Claire Roberts, Lucy Crawford, Raychel Ferguson and Conor Mitchell.

"The Belfast Trust... apologises for all the shortcomings in care at the Royal Hospitals that have been identified, either prior to this inquiry or during the hearings," Mr Donaghy said.

He acknowledged that the trust's handling of litigation had added to the hurt and grief felt by the families.

"For the part the Belfast Trust has played in prolonging this agony, I'm deeply sorry," he told the inquiry.

He also said that the families' grief was "exacerbated by the actions of the three trusts involved".

Three of the children – Raychel Ferguson (9), Conor Mitchell (15) and Lucy Crawford (17 months) – were treated in hospitals within the Western and Southern health trusts, before they were transferred to the RBHSC.

The inquiry's chairman reiterated yesterday that the families believe "there was a cover-up" following their children's deaths.

The parents of Raychel Ferguson and Claire Roberts have said that the health trust's highly significant apology must be followed by further action.

Claire Roberts (9) died in 1996. Speaking after a meeting with the trust's executives yesterday, Claire's father, Alan, described the chief executive's words as "hollow".

"We are looking for what action Belfast Trust is going to take against doctors responsible for Claire's care – and how they will be held accountable for what happened 17 years ago," he said.

The management of fluid during the children's care is central to the inquiry.

Inquest verdicts on the deaths of four of the children stated that hyponatraemia – which occurs when there is a low amount of sodium (salt) in the bloodstream – was a contributory factor.

Mr Donaghy told the inquiry that communication with the families was not sufficiently transparent and staff did not reflect on what may have gone wrong, so the information was not disseminated within the wider hospital network or to the Department of Health.

"The evidence presented shows that training in fluid management in children was inconsistent, record keeping was incomplete and our governance was not sufficiently developed or robust.

"I also accept that reflective clinical practice and candour, which is how we work today, was clearly missing," he said.

Marie Ferguson's daughter, Raychel (9), died in June 2001 after an operation to have her appendix removed at Londonderry's Altnagelvin Hospital.

"People have to be held accountable for these deaths," she said. "I'm calling on the PSNI to look at this again."

Yesterday's inquiry heard that changes have been implemented within the health trust.

FACTFILE

Belfast Health Trust's inquiry comes nine years after the inquiry was set up, in 2004. It was suspended in 2005 for the PSNI to carry out a three-year investigation into three of the children's deaths. The inquiry is examining the deaths of three children, Adam Strain, Claire Roberts and Raychel Ferguson. It is also investigating the events following the deaths of Lucy Crawford and Conor Mitchell.

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