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Healthcare news

Minister who ordered hyponatraemia inquiry calls for recommendations to be acted on

Former Labour MP Angela Smith
Seanín Graham

THE minister who first ordered the hyponatraemia inquiry has said it is "extraordinary" that legislation is required to get health professionals to "tell the truth".

Former direct rule health minister Angela Smith also said the report's recommendations, including a new 'duty of candour', should be implemented "urgently".

The former Labour MP, who is now Baroness Smith and the Opposition leader in the House of Lords, expressed concern that a "dedicated team" announced by the Department of Health to produce an action plan in response to the inquiry has still to be set up - almost a month after the report's release.

The deaths of Adam Strain (4), Claire Roberts (9), Raychel Ferguson (9) 18-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 and the investigation examined whether fatal errors were made in the administration of intravenous fluids.

It found that four of the children's deaths could have been prevented.

Baroness Smith said the report "emphasises the need for local accountability and local ministers".

"But there has to be discussions about recommendations as a matter of urgency. It's taken 14 years to get to this point - we can't wait another 14 years before someone decides what to do about the recommendations," she said.

"I think there has to be a group to discuss the recommendations as soon as possible."

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Baroness Smith also spoke of the importance of a duty of candour.

While she said she accepted the pressures health professionals are facing, there is an "obligation to tell the truth" when things go wrong.

"It is extraordinary that you require a statutory duty to get someone to tell the truth," she said.

"It should be an automatic requirement to tell the truth about mistakes that have happened - the reasons for owning up to mistakes is to learn lessons. After what those families have been through, anybody would want to see lessons learned so that mistakes can't happen again."

The Irish News asked the Department of Health to provide details of membership of the team producing the action plan.

A spokeswoman said: "Significant work is ongoing to develop a comprehensive response to the public inquiry report's detailed findings and 96 recommendations.

"The structured work plan for the department's implementation team is also being developed, along with its membership and support staff arrangements. A more detailed update of the work programme will be provided in due course."

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