Belfast Telegraph

Working group to implement proposals of inquiry into children’s hospital deaths

By Lisa Smyth

Plans are under way to create a working group to examine and implement the recommendations made by the explosive Hyponatraemia Inquiry report, it can be revealed.

It comes just weeks after the chair of the inquiry published his findings into the deaths of five children at Northern Ireland hospitals.

In his long-awaited report, John O'Hara QC said the deaths of three of the children were preventable and caused by medical negligence.

He also hit out at a culture of secrecy within the health service and said that some witnesses "had to have the truth dragged out of them, while others had deliberately withheld vital information".

Parents of the children have since met with the permanent secretary of the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, who said he is committed to addressing the concerns raised by Mr O'Hara.

Marie Ferguson, whose daughter, Raychel, was just nine-years-old when she died after an operation to remove her appendix at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry in June 2001, has welcomed the latest development.

She said: "I am pleased that Mr Pengelly met with us and that he appears to be taking our concerns and the findings of the inquiry report seriously.

"It was the first of what is supposed to be a series of meetings to inform us of any developments and I am glad that the families are being kept up to date with what the Department is doing about this.

"For too long, we have been kept in the dark and the truth has been kept from us."

However, despite the commitment made by Mr Pengelly, Mrs Ferguson said she is concerned at an apparent lack of action by other bodies.

"Some of the people named and criticised in the report are still working and there doesn't seem to be any effort to address this," she continued.

"We have also heard nothing from the police as to whether they are planning to carry out their own investigation into the findings of the report or the allegations made by a whistleblower that information may have been withheld from the inquiry."

Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray last night said: "We are continuing to carefully assess the contents of the public inquiry report regarding hyponatremia and related issues before deciding what action needs to be taken.

"We are also aware of the whistleblower allegations and these will be considered as well."

Meanwhile, the Health and Social Care Board has been ordered to provide a detailed response to concerns raised by Mr O'Hara about damning claims made by a whistleblower.

Following publication of his report, Mr O'Hara announced that he would carry out a separate investigation into allegations that information was deliberately withheld from his inquiry.

The board carried out its own internal probe and found the claims unsubstantiated - a move heavily criticised by the families of the children.

And in a letter to the board on March 2, Mr O'Hara said he was concerned at the findings of the internal investigation.

He said: "The inquiry was not informed that there had been doubts about who searched for what or that the previous assurances had been incorrectly given.

"The whistleblower appears justified in drawing attention to the possibility that 'the inquiry has been misled, misdirected or deliberately misinformed'.

"I consider it reasonable at this stage to characterise the whistleblower's concerns as legitimate and to have been raised in the public interest.

"Accordingly, I am very troubled that the whistleblower investigation report should have found as it did and to have neither addressed these specific concerns nor the evidence relevant to them."

Mr O'Hara asked the board to provide a detailed response to his concerns by yesterday.

A spokeswoman said the board will continue to co-operate fully with Mr O'Hara.

The Hyponatraemia Inquiry, which was first announced in 2004, examined the role fluid 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.

Belfast Telegraph

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