Belfast Telegraph

Department of Health 'could have saved lives' of children who died of Hyponatraemia

A leading Northern Irish public health specialist has said that the Department of Health could have saved the lives of children who died from Hyponatraemia.

Five children (Adam Strain, Raychel Ferguson, Claire Roberts, Conor Mitchell and Lucy Crawford) died at Northern Ireland hospitals from the condition which occurs when the level of sodium in the blood becomes abnormally low.

An inquiry into the deaths examined the role mismanagement played in the children's deaths, as well as the way the deaths were handled by health officials and whether some of the deaths could have been prevented.

In his long-awaited report, John O'Hara QC said the deaths of four of the children were preventable and caused by medical negligence and that some doctors had engaged in cover-ups following the death.

The report also offered 96 recommendations be implemented to prevent a similar situation happening in the future.

Northern Irish health expert Professor Gabriel Scally told the BBC "this is a remarkable account of lies, deceit and cover-up, of negligence and of secrecy and deliberate obstruction."

The Belfast-born Doctor said that there was a "toxic" culture amongst Northern Ireland health professionals.

"I have seen it happen before but only in individual institutions or amongst individual teams," he said.

"Here it seems to have been a widespread pattern almost across the province."

"I think the Department of Health could have, if they had been acting properly, they could have saved the lives of some of these children."

Professor Scally said that people needed to be held to account over the deaths.

"The Department of Health is not the health service, it is a department of state. It is a department to serve the people and serving the people means holding the NHS to account. That's what they should have been doing and it doesn't look to me like they did that," he said.

Professor Scally, who is currently investigating the cervical cancer screening scandal in the Republic of Ireland, called for Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride to ensure the recommendations from the Hyponatraemia Inquiry be implemented.

Dr McBride was Medical Director at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust between 2002 and 2006 and was involved in orchestrating the trust's response to the death of Claire Roberts.

Claire Roberts, nine, died in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital in 1996.

"If it was me I would say: 'I am sorry this happened and I am going to make it my professional duty for the rest of my career to make sure that this never happens again'," Professor Scally told the BBC.

"I think the chief medical officer, if he was involved, he should talk about that and be talking to the public and talking to the families about what he has learnt from that, and to take forward the recommendations and take forward change, he might very well be the best person because he knew it from the inside.

"He might well be the best person to take the whole thing forward and change things."

The Department of Health said that Dr McBride had worked to implement many of the recommendations from the Hyponatraemia Inquiry.

"It should also be noted that Dr McBride's leadership has helped deliver many of the important clinical and governance improvements acknowledged in Mr Justice O'Hara's report," a spokesperson said.

The PSNI announced in March that they would be launching their own investigation into the deaths from Hyponatraemia.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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