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Attorney General urged to probe if deaths at Northern Trust were 'covered up'

By Amanda Ferguson

The SDLP's health spokesman has called on the Attorney General to get involved in the Northern Trust deaths crisis discussion.

Last night Fearghal McKinney told the Belfast Telegraph the health service was in danger of being seen as "covering up the circumstances of death", and as John Larkin "looks after the public interest in legal affairs", he should make a statement.

This comes after the daughter of one of the 11 patients whose deaths are being investigated by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust accused the organisation of lacking openness and transparency.

Catherine Allen, the daughter of Neil Cormican (81), who died at Antrim Area Hospital four years ago, said a catalogue of errors were made in the handling of her father's care.

He was mistakenly given potassium by a junior doctor which was intended for another patient.

Daughter hits out at trust over dad's death at Antrim Hospital

The Northern Trust has apologised and admitted its response was below standard.

Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey had told the inquest into Mr Cormican's death the case should have been referred to his office a lot sooner.

And Mr McKinney believes serious questions regarding how many more deaths were not reported as serious adverse incidents remain.

"What was very clear through the Cormican case is the coroner was not being told everything in a timely way," said the SDLP MLA.

"He made it very clear he was unhappy. If he thought this happened on a more regular basis he would refer it to the police.

"Given what the minister said of the potential for more hospital-related deaths and the failure to properly report some, there are very serious questions to be asked.

"The coroner needs to make his position clear and the Attorney General needs to be involved as well. After all, he looks after the public interest in legal affairs so he has to make a statement."

Mr McKinney yesterday tabled an urgent oral question in the Assembly calling for open and robust reporting mechanisms.

He said those would involve discussions with the minister, the Attorney General and the coroner.

He also said it was concerning that the health service did not appear to learn from the serious adverse incident mechanism in place.

A serious adverse incident is any event or circumstance that led or could have led to serious unintended or unexpected harm, loss or damage.This includes whether a patient has died under unusual circumstances.

"The SAIs are the mechanism by which the health service was supposed to be learning and it's clear they were not implementing their own learning process," he said.

"We are in danger of the health service being seen as covering up the circumstances of death."


"It has been very difficult from the outset to find out all the details of what happened to dad.

"There's no other organisation that I know of which if they had caused someone's death would they be allowed to carry out that investigation themselves.

"There has been no openness or transparency – any information that we have got from them, we have had to pursue them for it. Nothing has been forthcoming."

Neil Cormican's daughter, Catherine Allen

What is a serious adverse incident?

A serious adverse incident is any event or circumstance that led or could have led to serious unintended or unexpected harm, loss or damage.

This includes whether a patient has died under unusual |circumstances.

This may be because:

  • It involves a large number of patients.
  • There is a question of poor clinical or management judgment.
  • A service or piece of equipment has failed.
  • A patient has died under unusual circumstances; or there is a possibility or perception that any of these may have occurred.
  • It is serious enough to warrant regional action to improve safety or care within the broader HSC.
  • It is of public concern.
  • It requires an independent review.

Further reading

Daughter hits out at trust over dad's death at Antrim Hospital

Five baby deaths probed in new Northern Ireland health service shock

Health care failures 'not acted on'

Belfast health trust chief quits

'Bruised and battered' nurses confront Edwin Poots

Royal Victoria Hospital delays in treatment: Edwin Poots offers apology and orders probe

Edwin Poots under pressure as daughter of woman who died in A&E says delay may have caused death

Hospital mortality rates defended

Serious failings at dental hospital blasted by report

Safety link to 800 patient deaths 

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