Ten months on from watershed report into children's hospital deaths, health chiefs meet with its author

Mr Justice O'Hara at the launch of the report into the 14-year inquiry hyponatraemia-related deaths on January 31. Picture Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

A DEPARTMENT of Health team set up to respond to a devastating report into the hospital deaths of five children are to meet with its chairman for the first time - ten months after the landmark report was published.

The Irish News has learned a dedicated group from the Department will meet Sir John O'Hara QC on Thursday to discuss its progress in implementing the 96 recommendations of the public inquiry into hyponatraemia-related deaths.

It is understood the department's permanent secretary Richard Pengelly will not attend the briefing.

Families have been particularly critical of the 'inaction' of senior health officials since the publication of the 14-year-old inquiry - the longest running of its kind in Northern Ireland.

Central to the recommendations was the introduction of a 'Duty of Candour' to force doctors and nurses to be honest about their mistakes.

Published on January 31, Mr Justice O'Hara was brutal in its assessment of a "self-regulating and unmonitored" health service in which parents were "deliberately misled" about the catastrophic failings in their children's care.

Crucially, the high-court judge found found that four of the deaths were "avoidable" and that some doctors were involved in a 'cover-up'.

The inquiry examined the hyponatraemia-related deaths of four year-old Adam Strain, Claire Roberts (9), Raychel Ferguson (9) 18-month-old Lucy Crawford and Conor Mitchell, who was 15. The children died between 1995 and 2003 at the Royal Belfast hospital for Sick Children in Belfast.

Hyponatraemia occurs when there is a shortage of sodium in the bloodstream and can be caused as a result of receiving excess fluid.

A spokeswoman for the inquiry office said Mr Justice O'Hara would not be commenting ahead of the meeting but confirmed this was the first time he had been invited by the Department's "Implementation Team" to discuss its work.

Over the past fortnight, the General Medical Council (GMC) has confirmed it is investigating four different doctors named in the report.

The actions of Dr Robert Taylor, Dr Heather Steen, Dr George Murnaghan and Dr Joseph Gaston are all being probed by their professional body.

The father of Claire Roberts said that while he welcomed the GMC's intervention, it could be another 18 months before some of the hearings take place.

"We want all the doctors who were involved in Claire's medical care to be interviewed by the GMC - this is not happening. Many of these doctors are still working in hospitals while those being investigated in relation to our daughter are close to retirement," Alan Roberts said.

The Irish News asked the department to outline what progress it has made in relation to the inquiry recommendations.

A spokeswoman said a media release would be issued later this week.

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