Nurses killed our daughter and covered it up, mother tells inquiry
A nine-year-old girl who died in a Northern Ireland hospital was killed by the nurses who looked after her, a probe into her death has been told.
Marie Ferguson told the Hyponatraemia Inquiry her daughter Raychel received a "severe lack of basic care and attention" at Altnagelvin Hospital and accused staff of a cover-up.
During a dramatic day of evidence, Raychel's parents made a series of shocking accusations including:
• Calling for doctors and nurses who looked after their daughter at the Londonderry hospital to face a criminal investigation for perjury;
• Being told by a consultant at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC) that Altnagelvin was "trying to pass the buck" by transferring her there when they knew she was brain dead;
• Claiming senior consultant Geoff Nesbitt was part of a cover-up into Raychel's death after asking a junior doctor to make additions to her medical notes;
• Repeated failures by doctors and nurses to realise their daughter was dying as she suffered a day of uncontrollable vomiting.
On day 97 of the probe, a packed-out public gallery watched as Marie and Ray Ferguson gave their recollection of the hours leading up to the death of their only daughter.
The couple took her to the A&E at Altnagelvin on June 7, 2001, after she complained of stomach pains. She underwent an operation to remove her appendix later that night and while she initially recovered well, her condition deteriorated the following day and she died at the RBHSC on June 10.
In a statement read to the inquiry yesterday, Mrs Ferguson said: "We believe to this day that Raychel's operation should never have taken place. We believe we should have been told the truth at the earliest opportunity, which we believe was five o'clock in the morning of June 9.
"Raychel's eyes were fixed and dilated at 5am. The doctors knew then that there was no going back.
"All we were given was false hope that Raychel would get an operation and that she would remain in the Royal for two to three weeks. In our view, we believe the cover up began on the morning Raychel was being transferred to the Royal. We now know the situation was hopeless.
"Within days, Dr Nesbitt obviously knew what had happened, so much so he had a junior doctor make additions to the medical notes. We have always been suspicious of that and we are even more suspicious now. That is the hands of a cover-up as far as we are concerned.
"Just as lay people, and looking at it again now, Altnagelvin just sent her to Belfast so that it would be recorded that Raychel died there. There was no hope for her."
Mrs Ferguson went on to describe a "lack of remorse" shown by the team of nurses who looked after Raychel as her condition worsened on June 8.
In particular, she told the inquiry her only recollection of a meeting after Raychel's death was claims by Staff Nurse Anne Noble that she was not concerned by the nine-year-old vomiting blood.
"I believe that the nurses... lied under oath... and that the police should be called in again and they should be charged with perjury.
"We have heard how traumatised and devastated they were and yet none of them have a clear recollection of Raychel.
"As a mother and father, we feel something as traumatic as the death of a child under your care would always, if not take a place in your heart, would take a place in your mind."
She continued: "Our belief is that Sister [Elizabeth] Millar and the nurses from ward six are responsible for the killing of our daughter and sister, Raychel.
"I am concerned more children and even adults may have died from hyponatraemia but the trust has covered up the deaths and families have been lied to."
Her father placed a picture on the desk in front of him ... a simple act that reminded a packed courtroom just why they were all there
By Lisa Smyth
A packed courtroom watched as Raymond Ferguson carefully placed two framed photographs of his only daughter on the desks in front of him.
Raychel Ferguson was just nine years old when she died after an operation at Altnagelvin Hospital.
Until yesterday, this section of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry has been concerned with testimony from the staff who treated Raychel, with legal argument and expert opinion over what happened.
Through his very simple act, Mr Ferguson reminded everyone exactly why we were there.
It set the scene for an overwhelmingly powerful tribute to a much-loved child.
Struggling to speak through her sobs, Marie Ferguson described in harrowing detail Raychel's final moments and the excruciating 12 years that have followed as the couple fights for the truth about their daughter's death.
"I remember when the nurse first told me I had a baby girl," she said.
"It was the happiest day of our lives. Raychel meant the world to us. We loved her so much. She was like a wee mother to her brothers, Stephen, Jason and Jamie.
"To sum Raychel up I would say she was happy, caring, not a worry in the world and very bright. She loved animals so much. She said when she grows up that she was going to be a vet and if she had loads of money she would give it to the poor people.
"That whole week Raychel was looking forward to and planning all the things we should be doing for her daddy's birthday on June 9. Sadly that day never happened.
"No one here would understand the aftermath of Raychel's death, the nights I had to spend consoling her three brothers, answering questions like who was going to cut her hair and nails.
"Four weeks after her death it was her brother's birthday and we had to go to the grave and push down sweets and leave her cake.
"Every night for years we all as a family went to the grave at 8pm every night, hail, rain or snow, and stay until 9pm because that was bedtime.
"My three sons have suffered tremendously. Not only did they lose their sister but they lost out on their mother, a normal childhood.
"Something as simple as going to the park did not happen because of the guilt I was feeling and how could we enjoy ourselves and Raychel lying in the cemetery?
"At that time my whole world had fallen apart, with Ray wanting to be with Raychel and with three young children who could not understand why Raychel was not here anymore and trying to deal with the shock and pain.
"We have never come to terms with her needless death as we have spent 12 years fighting instead of grieving."
She continued: "On the morning of June 10, we were told that the machine would have to be switched off as Raychel would never recover.
"I know that no one here could possibly imagine how you could ever be ready to face something as horrific as this.
"I knew in my heart I had to do this but did not know how I could ever say I was ready to give up my daughter.
"I sat on a chair with Ray beside me. The nurse lifted Raychel out on to my knee, my three sons sitting around us crying.
"I begged Raychel to please wake up, this was her last chance, but this did not happen.
"The nurse nodded and I nodded back and there before me I watched Raychel's wee pink rosy cheeks slowly turn white and her wee nails turn blue and it was all over.
"I made Raychel a promise the day her coffin was closed and she left home for the last time that I would not stop until I got to the truth of what robbed me of the most precious wee girl of my life."
It was a speech that reduced the courtroom to tears.
As Mr and Mrs Ferguson made their way from the dock, they were comforted by barristers, relatives and the mother of nine-year-old Claire Roberts – whose death at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in 1996 has already been examined by the inquiry.
The two women embraced and sobbed for several minutes – reinforcing once again the devastation caused by the tragic deaths of the five children at the centre of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry.