Northern Ireland news

Public inquiry launched into clinical practice of NI consultant urologist Aidan O'Brien

 Concerns about a consultant urologist's work at Craigavon Area Hospital have been investigated since his retirement in June. Picture Mal McCann.

Stormont health minister Robin Swann has announced a public inquiry into concerns around the clinical practice of consultant urologist Aidan O’Brien.

The consultant from the Southern Health Trust retired earlier this year.

The trust notified the Department of Health of concerns in July.

Mr Swann told the Assembly that, to date, 1,159 patients’ records have initially been reviewed and 271 patients or families have been contacted by the trust.

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“So far, nine cases have been identified that meet the threshold for a serious adverse incident (SAI) review and all nine patients and/or their families have been contacted by the trust to inform them of the position in relation to their respective cases,” he said.

“A further six cases are currently being reviewed in more detail to establish if those patients have come to harm.”

He added: “This emerging situation within the Southern Trust causes me and my department the gravest of concerns. While I remain convinced that the experience of patients who use our health services is overwhelmingly that of a safe and quality service, these incidents regrettably dent the confidence of service users.

“I fully acknowledge this and I will do all that I can to ensure that lessons are learnt, to prevent situations such as these occurring again.”

Health committee chairman Colm Gildernew responded to Mr Swann’s statement in the Assembly, describing it as “very concerning”.

“I welcome the fact that a public inquiry has been called into this issue,” he said.

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley said the statement will “cause a lot of concern” for patients across the Southern Trust.

He welcomed the announcement of a public inquiry. He also called for Dr O’Brien’s career at the trust to be examined and inquired if the minister anticipates any further disciplinary proceedings or police actions.

Mr Swann said those involved in investigating will look “as far back as is necessary”.

“In regards to the outworkings of this inquiry in regards to Mr O’Brien, that will be for the outworkings of the Royal College and also the inquiry itself, it’s not for me to pre-determine that,” he said.

The emergence of the review coincides with a period of unprecedented challenges for the north's health system, with hundreds of staff redeployed and surgeries cancelled due to the second Covid wave and spiralling hospital admissions.

It also comes more than two years after the north's biggest ever patient recall, when almost 3,000 neurology patients were reassessed in the Belfast trust due to fears they were misdiagnosed or given the wrong drug treatments by Dr Michael Watt.

Today Mr Swann also announced an independent inquiry into the neurology recall scandal.

"This is to enable the inquiry panel team to complete its work with “unfettered access to all relevant information”, he stated.

Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew said lessons must be learned from the various inquiries into our health and social care system.

The Chair of the Health Committee said: “Today we learned of another recall of patients, this time involving hundreds of urology patients in the Southern Health Trust.

“While I welcome the Health Minister's decision to establish statutory Inquiries into urology at the Southern Health Trust and neurology in the Belfast Trust, I am deeply concerned that what we are seeing are systemic failures throughout the health care system.

“This is devastating the lives of many people who trusted the health system to care for them or their loved ones.

“The system cannot continue in this pattern."

 

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