Healthcare news

Health service chief Richard Pengelly to meet family of Michael and Marjorie Cawdery (83) killed by mentally ill patient

Marjorie and Michael Cawdery were stabbed to death in their Portadown home. A health service investigation concluded that the deaths were "avoidable"
Seanín Graham

THE most senior figure in the health service has agreed to meet the family of an elderly couple who were brutally killed by a mentally ill patient in what a fresh probe found were "avoidable" deaths.

Richard Pengelly, permanent secretary at the Department of Health, will tomorrow speak for the first time to relatives of Michael and Marjorie Cawdery, three weeks after a confidential review found serious failings in the Southern health trust's handling of the case.

Mr and Mrs Cawdery, who were both 83, were stabbed to death in their Portadown home in a "frenzied attack" by paranoid schizophrenic Thomas McEntee two years ago.

It emerged that McEntee, who was seen naked on the day of the killings and presented himself to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, had sought medical help on four occasions in the days before the tragedy.

The family requested to meet with Mr Pengelly in his capacity as head of the health and social care (HSC) system to ask about what they described as a "shambolic" initial health service review - the family demanded that a second probe was carried out - and why he "has never apologised to them".

The meeting will also be attended by the north's chief social social worker, Sean Holland, and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paddy Woods, as well as those managing health service groups set up to implement central recommendations of the hyponatraemia report, including a 'duty of candour' law.

Charles Little, who is married to the late couple's daughter Wendy and lived next door to the family home, was the first person to discover their bodies.

He said they will have a "number of questions" for Mr Pengelly.

"Obviously, we want an apology but we don't want an apology for the 'distress' suffered - which was given to us by the trust - but an apology for the 'avoidable deaths' of Mike and Marjorie Cawdery," he said.

"What has now been proven is that the whole incident was 'avoidable' as was the life sentence handed down to Thomas McEntee and the upset and trauma handed down to our family and his family.

"Our teenage son who saw his mother covered in his grandfather's blood has never recovered nor has our daughter... while our home was turned into a murder crime scene.

"To put this into context, Mr Pengelly, who is the chief executive of the whole health service and is ultimately responsible for everything that goes on, has never said a word to us on the subject."

The new independent review, known as a level 3 Serious Adverse Incident (SAI), was given to the family last month but will not be made public.

It concluded that although the killings "could not have been predicted", they "could have been avoided".

Wendy Little Cawdery said she had been "unable to grieve" for her parents due to distress caused by the trust's response to their case and how they had to repeatedly ask for information.

"We didn't expect to be treated as if we were inconsequential - as if we shouldn't be here at all. My parents died. We were part of the incident and weren't even interviewed by the health service, they didn't want to know us," she said.

The Health and Social Care Board and the Southern health trust last month said it recognised the "enormous distress" caused to the family and wanted to "unreservedly apologise".

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