Belfast Telegraph

Coroner to probe if delays in treatment had role in death of suspected overdose victim Edel Houston

By Angela Rainey

A Belfast coroner is to investigate whether delays in medical treatment contributed to the death of a Co Antrim woman believed to have overdosed on diet pills last year.

Speaking at the inquest into Edel Houston (23), who died in June 2015 after taking the unnamed tablets, coroner Joe McCrisken said the hearing had been delayed as he had not received witness statements from those responsible for her care.

A post-mortem examination report suggested that Ms Houston, from Glebe Road East in Newtownabbey, died at Antrim Area Hospital following high levels of caffeine in her blood caused by the pills and aspiration pneumonia.

A preliminary hearing at Belfast's Laganside House was told the scope of an inquest would examine the pills and their effect as well as the treatment she received by paramedics at Antrim Area Hospital.

Mr McCrisken said: "One of the big issues with this death concerns the delay and whether that delay had any effect at all."

He also said that he had not been able to compile a witness list as he did not have statements from four medics instrumental in Ms Houston's immediate treatment. "They were spoken to during the investigation, so it will not be a surprise that they will be required to give evidence," he explained.

"Having read the serious adverse incident report, the statements of two paramedics, a triage nurse and a nurse in charge are crucial to the inquest. There may also be someone better placed to go through the serious adverse incident report as it more for the families that the information is provided."

The coroner agreed with the Houston's barrister, Matthew Corkey, that a toxicologist should be called to attend to explain the chemical composition of the pills and to offer their knowledge of the fatal effect the pills had on her. Mr Corkey said that he had attempted to track "the chemical pathway" of the drugs online but suspected they were being sold under a different name as he could not identify them precisely.

He added that the family who were not in attendance were out of the country and would be seeking legal aid.

The coroner told the hearing that he would not tolerate further delays, adding that since taking on the role of coroner in February he has been striving to see the waiting time for inquests decreased as currently they adverse to families.

He told the hearing that he expected to see reports within the next 28 days and that he intended for the inquest to advance as soon as possible.

"This young lady's death was last June and there has been too many delays so far," he added.

"I have my own duty as coroner not just under the Human Rights Act but also Coroners' Regulations to ensure that there are no further delays.

"It is counter-therapeutic to families to have to wait this long for an inquest.

"That is over a year now. I really do not want there to be any further delays.

"This inquest will move at pace from this point on.

The case has been adjourned.

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