Northern Ireland news

Department pledges to work 'closely' with families following damning report into children's deaths - as police called in to probe findings

Alan and Jennifer Roberts parents of Claire Roberts (9) who died in 1996 at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast and is one of the five child deaths between 1995 and 2003 investigated by the Hyponatraemia Inquiry Picture Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

THE Department of Health has pledged to "closely involve the families" in how its responds to a damning public inquiry into the "avoidable" hospital deaths of four children.

It has also emerged that police are to probe the findings of Mr Justice O'Hara's report into hyponatraemia-related deaths which found there was a "cover up" by some doctors and parents were "deliberately misled".

Det Supt Richard Campbell, said the PSNI is in the process of gathering together "a team of specialist detectives" who will focus on taking forward enquiries following the publication of the inquiry.

Police have contacted the families and their representatives and will seek to meet with them soon.

The development comes just days after a Belfast couple criticised department chiefs over their failure to contact them in the seven weeks since Sir John O'Hara's report concluded there was a "cover-up" into the failings around their daughter's care.

In an interview with the Irish News on Monday, Alan and Jennifer Roberts, who lost their nine-year-old daughter Claire in 1996, said that criminal prosecutions must be "the next stage".

They revealed they had sought a meeting with the most civil servant at the department, permanent secretary Richard Pengelly, earlier this month.

The Roberts said they did not receive any "direct answers" and criticised the lack of communication with families in relation to the creation of a 'dedicated team' to implement the report's 96 recommendations.

The department yesterday took the unusual step of posting a link on Twitter to direct the public to a statement on its website about its response to the O'Hara report.

Statements are usually issued in a press release to the media as well being published online.

It said that "concrete steps" were being taken and announced that the deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Paddy Woods, will head up a team to "take forward work".

It is understood Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride, will not be part of the team as he is named in the inquiry. He was the medical director of the Royal Group of Hospitals in 2004 when the deaths were being investigated.

Mr Pengelly said: "We want to closely involve the families in every stage of the process and to assure them on the actions being taken and the priority attached to that work.

"I recently met with three of the families and I am keen that this constructive engagement should continue."

It has also emerged that doctors and nurses criticised in the inquiry have referred themselves or been referred by health trusts to their professional bodies.

The department added that a "legal duty of candour" would be a key priority, but that ultimately, "ministerial approval and legislation will be required to deliver a permanent solution for both".

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