Editor's Viewpoint: Rigorous probe is vital to allay fears
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey was right to order an urgent, independent investigation into the case of Professor Philip Lamey, a consultant in oral medicine at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.
Too many questions remain unanswered about the case to allow it to continue without a rigorous examination. And that examination must include the roles of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and Mr McGimpsey's own department.
At the core of this case - as it was with the case of the Western Trust which allowed a huge backlog of unread X-rays to build up - is the care of patients. It has emerged that up to 15 people being treated by Professor Lamey could have had a late cancer diagnosis. Four have died, although it cannot be determined if the delay in diagnosis contributed to their deaths.
Professor Lamey had a prestigious worldwide reputation but concerns over his fitness to practise were raised at the end of 2009. Why was he allowed to continue to teach students when he, himself, could only practice under supervision? Why was he still being paid almost £56,000 annually on top of his salary in recognition of his clinical excellence? Why did it take a year to review all his patients and why were none of them recalled until that review was completed? Why was Mr McGimpsey only informed of the full extent of the case last Monday?
These questions suggest a breakdown in communication within the health service to the possible detriment of some patients. This is not the first example of it, nor, we suspect, will it be the last. Could it be the some health bodies are finding the transition to local governance - and greater local scrutiny - a difficult concept to handle? Whatever the situation, the handling of it to date has been unacceptable and it is to be hoped that Mr McGimpsey's inquiry will deliver the answers required and ensure that better lines of communication are opened and maintained.