Northern Ireland news

Christine Smith QC to chair urology public inquiry

Christine Smith QC
Seanín Graham

A chair has been appointed to a public inquiry examining "grave concerns" around the work of a hospital consultant based in the Northern Ireland health service for almost 30 years.

Christine Smith QC will head up the statutory inquiry relating to the clinical practice of retired Southern trust urologist Aidan O'Brien.

Health minister Robin Swann confirmed the move yesterday but said hearings will not get underway until summer due to the "lengthy and detailed" nature of the case.

It is understood Ms Smith is the first woman to be appointed to oversee a public inquiry in the north.

Mr Swann noted her extensive experience as Queen's Counsel and background in inquiry work.

"Ms Smith is Senior Counsel to the Independent Neurology Inquiry and was Senior Counsel for the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. She also appeared for the Department of Finance in the RHI Inquiry.

"I believe that her professional expertise and recent involvement with inquiries equips her to chair the Urology Inquiry," he said.

Mr Swann ordered the inquiry in November following a major patient recall and lookback review by trust officials.

It is understood the care of prostate cancer patients was flagged up. While based mainly in Craigavon Area hospital, Mr O'Brien also had private clinics.

A total of 1,159 urology patients' records were initially reviewed covering the period between January 2019 and June 2020 - with nine cases meeting the threshold for 'Serious Adverse Incident' (SAI) reviews.

Mr Swann said issues identified were "of the gravest concern".

Two months prior to the announcement, a public inquiry was also ordered into the Muckamore Hospital abuse scandal.

The biggest safeguarding investigation of its kind in the north, the identity of its chair is also expected to be confirmed shortly.

An independent inquiry into the Dr Watt neurology recall has also been upgraded to a public inquiry, with Brett Lockhart QC expected to continue in his role as chair.

Mr Swann again issued an apology to those caught up in the urology recall.

"I wish to reassure them that I will endeavour to ensure that they obtain appropriate treatment and support and the care that they need," he said.

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