Nurses' words of regret an insult says child's mother
Parents of a nine-year-old girl who died after a routine operation have rejected a surprise statement of sympathy from the nurses who cared for her as "insulting" and "cold".
An inquiry into the death of Londonderry schoolgirl Raychel Ferguson heard on Monday that seven nurses who cared for her "remain devastated" by the girl's unexpected death in 2001.
However, their collective statement of regret was immediately dismissed by the child's parents.
Raychel was pronounced dead three days after she was admitted to Altnagelvin Hospital with symptoms of stomach pains on June 7, 2001.
An inquiry into her death – and that of four other children in Northern Ireland – has heard that the little girl suffered prolonged vomiting and a seizure after an operation to have her appendix removed in Altnagelvin Hospital.
Sandra Gilchrist, one of a team of seven nurses who looked after Raychel at Altnagelvin, gave evidence to the inquiry on Monday, the last to do so.
Monday's inquiry heard that Ms Gilchrist and others nurses stopped taking Raychel's blood pressure for more than 12 hours.
Ms Gilchrist also told the inquiry that she should have recorded an instance of Raychel vomiting while on duty on the evening of June 8, 2011 – but didn't.
Raychel suffered a seizure in the early hours of the following morning, from which she never recovered. She was pronounced dead the next day.
After Ms Gilchrist left the stand, proceedings took an unexpected turn when Connor Campbell QC, who represents the nurses, told the inquiry that they collectively wished to "express their deepest sympathies to the Ferguson family".
Describing the statement as "an expression of regret and sympathy", Mr Campbell said: "Each and, I think, every one of them is a mother and from that point of view can well understand the depth of loss that the Ferguson family have been suffering in the 12 years since their tragic and untimely death."
None of the nurses felt able to express the sentiments individually, while giving evidence, because they remained "devastated" by the little girl's death, he added.
He told the inquiry's chairman, John O'Hara QC: "The giving of evidence... has been at times emotional and difficult for them. And although you did give each of them the opportunity to say something towards the end of their evidence, none of them felt able or in a position to do so.
"That is quite simply because they were devastated and remain devastated by the very tragic outcome of Raychel's case."
That statement was swiftly rejected by Raychel's parents outside the court.
Her mother Marie described the nurses' decision to speak through their legal team as "cold" and "outrageous".
"To me it was an insult," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"If they had have said it, each one of them personally, themselves... but coming through a solicitor and after 12 years... it was very cold.
"They all had a chance after each one gave their evidence. Mr O'Hara had said to them, 'have you anything to say?', and not one of them was able to say..."
"They would have been better today saying nothing than saying what they said."
Earlier in the day, Ms Gilchrist – who is now a nursing sister on Altnagelvin's paediatric ward – said she did not know why she and other colleagues had not taken Raychel's blood pressure, which was recorded the previous day.
"I do not know why they would have stopped doing it and I do not know why I did not do it," she told the inquiry.
She added that she should have recorded an instance of Raychel vomiting while on duty on June 8, 2001.
The inquiry heard that new documents have been released to the inquiry by the Western Trust.
The team of nurses includes Ann Noble who also cared for Raychel and broke down while giving evidence and said she could understand how Raychel's parents suspected a cover-up.
Story so far
The inquiry is examining the deaths of three children — Adam Strain, Claire Roberts and Raychel Ferguson. It is also looking at the events following the death of Lucy Crawford (17 months) and issues arising from the treatment of Conor Mitchell (15). The children died in hospitals across Northern Ireland between 1995 and 2003. In the case of four of the children, the inquest verdict on their death stated that hyponatraemia contributed to their deaths. Hyponatraemia — which occurs when there is a low amount of sodium in the blood stream — is the common thread connecting the five deaths.