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GMC to investigate medics criticised over hyponatraemia deaths

By David Young

A probe by the General Medical Council (GMC) into doctors criticised by the Hyponatraemia Inquiry could take more than six months, it was learned last night.

Twenty-four doctors criticised by an inquiry into the deaths of five children have already referred themselves to the GMC for investigation, the organisation said in a statement yesterday

Established in 2004 and led by Sir John O'Hara, the Hyponatraemia Inquiry examined the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Raychel Ferguson (9), Conor Mitchell (15) Claire Roberts, (9) Adam Strain (4) and 17-month-old Lucy Crawford, in hospitals across Northern Ireland,

All the children apart from Conor Mitchell were found to have died from hyponatraemia-related conditions.

Hyponatraemia is a dangerous, sometimes fatal, condition caused by low sodium levels in the blood.

The GMC investigation follows the publication of Sir John's report into the children's deaths.

It painted a damning picture of how the children and their families had been treated by the medical professionals involved.

In his report, published in January 2018, Sir John said some medics had behaved "evasively, dishonestly and ineptly" - adding that medical professionals should stop treating their own reputations and interests first and put the public interest first.

He was scathing of some medical witnesses, saying they "had to have the truth dragged out of them".

Sir John added: "The failure by senior clinicians to address the issue with appropriate candour suppressed the truth and inhibited proper examination of what had gone wrong."

Responding to Sir John's report yesterday, Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the UK's General Medical Council, said: "All healthcare providers and organisations must learn from the heartbreaking events at the centre of the Inquiry's report, which have caused years of suffering and stress for those families who lost children.

"It is vital we all act so families do not have to suffer such avoidable tragedies in future."

The GMC also confirmed that it had set up a special team to consider whether there were sufficient grounds to take action against the medical personnel criticised in Sir John's report.

The GMC said: "The report criticises the conduct of a number of doctors who were responsible for the care of the children or who gave evidence to the inquiry.

"We are currently considering whether there are grounds for us to take action against any of those named in the report in relation to their fitness to practise.

"We have established a dedicated team to take this work forward."

A GMC source also confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that the initial inquiry into the doctors was likely to take several months.

If further hearings were needed, for example if a doctor contested the GMC's findings, the matter would then be referred to the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service.

Its hearings are held in public.

The maximum sanction if such an investigation identifies wrongdoing is for a doctor to be struck off the medical register, which means they can no longer legally practise as a doctor in the UK.

In addition to the GMC probe, police are investigating the death of nine-year-old Claire Roberts who died in Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital in 1996 from hyponatraemia.

Belfast Telegraph

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