Belfast Telegraph

Family's anger at inaction over cover-up identified by 'forgotten' child deaths probe

By Lisa Smyth

An official investigation into the treatment and deaths of five children in Northern Ireland hospitals has been labelled a forgotten inquiry by a leading think tank.

The Institute for Government admitted it had never heard of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry, which is why it was not included in its recent paper on public inquiries.

The 14-year probe, which published a damning report in January stating that four of the five deaths were avoidable, was the longest running public inquiry in the UK.

Despite this, it was not included in a "definitive and comprehensive summary of all public inquiries" between 1990 and 2017 compiled by the institute.

The body's Marcus Shepheard also said that, currently, nobody is formally accountable for driving forward the changes recommended by John O'Hara, chair of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry.

"We have argued that at a minimum every inquiry should get a formal ministerial response," he said.

"This should offer due recognition of the time, effort and resources that go into any inquiry.

"None of this is set to happen with the Hyponatraemia Inquiry.

"While it has satisfied two of the three main purposes of an inquiry - establishing what happened and why - it has been fatally undercut in its ability to deliver on the third and most important purpose, namely making sure that mistakes do not happen again."

Alan Roberts, whose daughter Claire was one of the children at the centre of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry, said he was not surprised at the omission by the institute.

Claire was just nine when she died at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in 1996.

In his scathing report, in which he said some medics refused to tell him the truth about what had happened, Mr O'Hara concluded there was a cover-up following her death. Families of the children at the centre of the scandal have been left furious at the fact that a number of individuals criticised in the report are still employed by the health trusts.

It has also emerged that a number of medics continue to receive massive financial packages in addition to their salaries for their contribution to the health service.

"We don't feel the inquiry has received the recognition it should have," said Mr Roberts.

"We spoke to the permanent secretary, Richard Pengelly, and asked him if he was prepared to do anything, given the fact that a public inquiry identified a cover-up within the health service and he said he can't do anything.

"He said the onus is on the Belfast Trust as the employer to take action if they feel this is warranted.

"We've had two meetings with him and spent hours and hours debating this very subject.

"The department tells us they are implementing all sorts of recommendations from the report and putting teams and teams of people in place to act on the recommendations.

"That is all very well, but we want to talk about the findings of the report.

"We had our first meeting with the trust on June 19 and I would describe it as very defensive from their perspective.

"We asked them what they are prepared to do about the findings of the report and they said it isn't for them.

"They said the doctors have self-referred to the GMC (General Medical Council).

"We're being passed from the department to the trust to the GMC."

Mr Roberts said it made him angry that important decisions have still not been made.

"It's very frustrating," he added.

No one from the Department of Health or Belfast Trust were available to comment.

Belfast Telegraph

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