Healthcare news

Health chiefs silent on doctor referrals to professional body over children's deaths

Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly is to head up a team that will respond to the 96 recommendations in the hyponatraemia report
Seanín Graham

HEALTH chiefs are unwilling to disclose the number of doctors who have referred themselves to their professional body following criticism of their care in a damning inquiry into the hospital deaths of five children.

A week after the hyponatraemia report confirmed that four of the deaths were "avoidable", the Department of Health also refused to say what mechanisms are in place to address multiple failings on the part of former managers and civil servants.

The General Medical Council (GMC) - the professional body which regulates all doctors in the UK - last night told The Irish News that "some doctors" named in the report had "referred themselves in the past seven days" but would not comment further.

Headed up Sir John O'Hara QC, the public inquiry spoke of an "indefensible" culture in which doctors and health chiefs were intent on "avoiding scrutiny" and protecting their own reputation.

The deaths of Adam Strain (4), Claire Roberts (9), Raychel Ferguson (9), 17-month-old Lucy Crawford and Conor Mitchell, who was 15, took place between 1995 and 2003 at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast.

Hyponatraemia is a medical condition that occurs when there is a shortage of sodium in the bloodstream. The investigation examined whether fatal errors were made in the administration of intravenous fluids.

Last Friday, the most senior civil servant at the department, Richard Pengelly, said a "dedicated team" is to be set up to respond to the report's 96 recommendations.

He confirmed that professional bodies who regulate doctors and nurses had already been contacted following the release of the 684-page report, which names health professionals involved in the children's care.

The permanent secretary noted that the GMC requires "any doctor who is criticised in an inquiry" to inform it.

Mr Pengelly added: "We expect full compliance with this requirement."

When asked if he could confirm the numbers of doctors who had referred themselves, a department spokeswoman said it was a matter for the health trusts as "they were the employers, not the department".

It is understood a number of doctors criticised in the report are currently working in Northern Ireland hospitals.

The department was also asked about structures in place to hold civil servants and managers named by the inquiry to account but has so far not responded.

The Irish News asked the three health trusts linked to doctors named in the report - the Belfast, the Western and Southern trusts - to comment on referral numbers.

All three refused to answer the question, instead issuing the same statement: "We are carefully reflecting on the findings of the inquiry into hyponatraemia-related deaths and are considering in detail what actions are required."

Claire Roberts

Raychel Ferguson

Adam Strain

Conor Mitchell

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