Health trust at centre of cancer scandal slammed in new report
A damning indictment of Belfast Health Trust has been delivered in the Assembly.
Health Minister Edwin Poots said the trust was guilty of an unacceptable failure and warned it "cannot be permitted to happen again".
His attack came after an independent report found the trust guilty of "serious deficiencies" after 15 cancer patients in the oral medicine department of the Royal Dental Hospital received late diagnoses and referrals.
"It is known that four of those 15 have died possibly as a consequence of oral cancer," the DUP Minister went on, but added: "The extent of the impact that delay in diagnosis or referral had on the outcome...is unknown at this stage."
Mr Poots also disclosed that five senior directors of the trust received pay increases of between five and 10%, which cannot now be legally retrieved - involving a total of £26,000.
And thirdly, MLAs were told there may be "potentially material shortcomings" over the procurement of a security services contract at the Belvoir Park Hospital site. Mr Poots said his permanent secretary, Andrew McCormick, has told the trust's chief executive Colm Donaghy: "If there are any other carcasses in the cupboard we better know about them pretty soon."
But he admitted the problem of excessive workloads had been exacerbated by the lack of an adequate secretarial and administrative support system.
Michelle Gildernew, chair of the Assembly health committee, said if people had died as a result of not getting a diagnosis sufficiently early it was "extremely serious". The SDLP's Conall McDevitt said a more serious situation involving a single trust would be hard to imagine and Alliance's Kieran McCarthy said it showed "total negligence". Both asked whether individuals involved are still in post.
Insisting he could not deal with individuals, Mr Poots said: "I do not doubt that during this time, a number of individuals in dealing with the complex situation believed that they were doing the right thing."
In February of this year, it finally emerged that two years ago the trust launched a major review of 3,000 clinical records belonging to dentistry patients in Northern Ireland.