Northern Ireland news

Urology Inquiry hears early alert system to be reviewed

An inquiry into the delivery of urology services by a Northern Ireland health trust and the work of now retired consultant Dr Aidan O'Brien hears that an early alert system is to be reviewed by the Department of Health

AN inquiry into the delivery of urology services by a Northern Ireland health trust and the work of a consultant has heard that an early alert system is to be reviewed by the Department of Health.

The department's Permanent Secretary Peter May said it was "not clear at the moment" that the early alert policy "is being implemented consistently".

Mr May was speaking yesterday during the Urology Services Inquiry.

Chaired by Christine Smith, the inquiry was established in March 2021 by former health minister Robin Swann to review the Southern Health and Social Care Trust’s (SHSCT) handling of urology services prior to May 2020.

More than 1,000 former patients of Aidan O’Brien, a consultant urologist based in Craigavon Area Hospital, were recalled in 2020 following an internal investigation by the southern trust.

Dr O’Brien retired in 2020.

The inquiry heard the Department of Health did not know about the urology problems until the end of July 2020.

Mr May said the early alert system, which allows information of concern to reach the department, needed to be clearly understood.

"There's always going to be a risk that something doesn't come forward because people don't feel it does meet the terms or perhaps is not recognised for the significance that it has when it appears," he said.

"So, I think anyone sitting here would be foolish to say that they have absolute confidence in a system of that nature.

"It's all down to human judgement and prone to human error in relation to how systems of that nature work.

"I think we're not clear at the moment that the policy is being implemented consistently."

Speaking about the review, Mr May said: "What we're trying to do is to make an existing policy work properly, as it were, rather than create a new policy."

The permanent secretary also apologised to families and patients linked to the public inquiry, acknowledging the "concerns, distress and anxiety" caused by a previous review into urology services and by the current public inquiry.

He said the inquiry was one of a number of inquiries that had raised "serious concerns" about patient safety issues and the health services must learn, from all of them, ways to improve "how these vital services are delivered".

The first week of the inquiry heard opening statements from the legal representatives of each core participant which includes the Department of Health, SHSCT and Dr O'Brien.

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