NI doctors ‘covered up failures in patient care’

The inquiry into fatal hyponatremia cases found doctors had covered up failings. Credit: PA

A public inquiry into deaths of children in Northern Ireland has said that doctors covered up failures in patient care.

Sir John O’Hara QC examined whether fatal errors were made in the administration of intravenous fluids in cases in Belfast.

He focused on the deaths of five children in hospitals – the oldest aged 15 and the youngest just 17 months – all from conditions connected to hyponatremia.

It happens when the level of sodium in the blood is abnormally low.

Sir John said some medics had behaved “evasively, dishonestly and ineptly”.

No family should have to go through the mental and physical stress, hurt and undermining that we are still going through.

Marie Ferguson

The mother of one of the children – Marie Ferguson, whose daughter Raychel died in 2001 – echoed the inquiry’s call for a law forcing doctors to be candid.

The inquiry chairman said apologies from Northern Ireland’s health authorities had to be dragged out of them through expert evidence to his inquiry.

He was especially critical of an anaesthetist whose patient died during an operation, but who failed to acknowledge his errors for many years.

“It is time that the medical profession and health service managers stop treating their own reputations and interests first and put the public interest first,” Sir John said.

In a statement, Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: “The thoughts of everyone today, first and foremost, are with the families of the children who tragically lost their lives and the department is deeply sorry for the distress, hurt and loss suffered by the families.”

The inquiry report acknowledges the work that has been undertaken to address serious past failings and provide safe and accountable care in future.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly

Medical chiefs from three hospital trusts criticised in Sir John O’Hara’s damning report have made an unreserved apology.

Speaking on behalf of the Belfast, Western and Southern Health and Social Care Trusts, Dr Cathy Jack acknowledged there had been “many failings”.

In a statement, Dr Jack - a medical director with the Belfast Trust - said: “We welcome today’s publication of the report and will urgently review the recommendations to ensure that all possible steps have beentaken to prevent this from ever happening again.

“We made mistakes. We were not as open and transparent as we could and should have been and opportunities to learn from each other and to make our care safer were missed.

“For this we are truly sorry.

“Surely there can be no greater pain for a parent than to lose their child and then to learn that errors occurred which were avoidable.”

Sir John’s inquiry into the deaths of five children found four of them were avoidable.