Belfast Telegraph

Minister apologises over outbreak

Northern Ireland's Health Minister has apologised after a public inquiry criticised the handling of a C difficile outbreak it said was linked to 31 deaths.

Michael McGimpsey praised bereaved relatives who contributed to the public inquiry and pledged to have its 12 recommendations implemented.

The probe, chaired by Dame Deirdre Hine, concluded the Clostridium difficile (C difficile) bug was the underlying cause in 15 deaths and a contributory cause in 16 deaths.

But the report also criticised aspects of the handling of the cases, identified what it described as management weaknesses and hit out at communications problems after the outbreak that affected hospitals in the Northern Health Trust.

Dame Deirdre said: "C difficile attacked at a time when the Northern Health and Social Care Trust was in a vulnerable state having recently undergone major re-organisation. And this explains, to some extent, why systems and practices in the trust, in particular those relating to communication, that should have operated to minimise the distressing experiences of the patients who caught the infection, either during their hospital stay or before their admission, were, as demonstrated by the evidence we were given, less than adequate.

"From the evidence, both oral and written, that we received we looked for the reasons why some of those affected became so anxious and distressed. In doing so we identified weaknesses or inadequacies in some of the management systems and services of the trust that were in operation at the time of the outbreak and we have been critical of them. Without such a critical analysis we could not have arrived at our conclusions and recommendations."

She added: "In making our recommendations we acknowledge that much has changed since the end of the outbreak and that many of these systems, for example those of environmental cleaning, have been radically changed and improved.

"The trust is now more mature and aware of the need to maintain effective systems to assure the board that negative patient experiences are known and tackled. We are convinced that the board and the staff are now better placed to provide an improved quality of communication and care and that if our recommendations are accepted and implemented the community they serve can have every confidence in the trust."

Minister Michael McGimpsey said: "I want to apologise to all those affected by this outbreak and offer my sincere sympathies to those families who lost loved ones. There is no doubt that this 027 strain of C difficile was extremely virulent and caused a great deal of pain and distress to all those affected.

"The reality is that the risk of getting Clostridium difficile or MRSA has been reduced significantly in recent years. People can have confidence in the quality and safety of care. However, we must not be complacent and will continue to work hard to drive down the spread of infections in our hospitals and other healthcare settings."

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