Belfast Trust now apologises to all child fluid death families

The Hyponatraemia-Inquiry was established in 2004

The Hyponatraemia-Inquiry was established in 2004

By Niall McCracken

THE Belfast Trust has announced it is apologising to the families of the children whose deaths are being examined by the Hyponatraemia inquiry, going back as far as 18 years.

The move, announced today by a lawyer for the trust, comes two weeks after the Western Trust admitted liability for the death of Raychel Ferguson 12 years ago, and relates to the “shortcomings in the management of the Belfast Trust, both in relation to the clinical management of the patients concerned in relation to any shortcomings in governance which have been uncovered by this inquiry”.

Gerry McAlinden QC also said the trust would be apologising for the conduct of litigation in any of the cases that had caused “added distress to the families”.

However later in today’s hearing in Banbridge, another barrister for the trust, Michael Lavery, briefly objected to an aunt of Raychel reading out a prepared statement, because of exception which had been taken by comments made by the Ferguson family in the witness box earlier this year.

After a short adjournment for the Ferguson’s lawyers to consult with lawyers for the HSC’s Directorate of Legal Services – which represents all the trusts at the inquiry – Mrs Doherty was allowed to read out her statement, which raised the family’s concerns about whether the trust’s admission of liability to them marked a genuine change in health service accountability.

Mrs Doherty: Mr O’Hara, this is just reflecting on the last 12 years and what the management and staff of Altnagelvin have put our family through. We take no comfort in the assurances given that changes have been implemented, especially as we read continually in the media about hospital failings. Will we ever see the day that the culture of secrecy and behind-the-door meetings will stop and families will be told the truth? And not treated in the most disgraceful and humiliating way that our family have been? Mr Chairman, whatever findings come from this inquiry, we hope will be a fitting tribute to Raychel and also to her mum and dad who have both devoted their life to fill the last promise they made to their only daughter Raychel. And that’s justice.

Earlier in today’s sitting, the issue arose of how the trusts and their lawyers had handled the death of the first known child death, that of four-year-old Adam Strain in 1995. When Adam’s mother sued the trust, it settled on the basis that she sign a gagging clause, which prevented her from speaking publicly about Adam’s death afterwards.

Dr Bob Taylor, who had been Adam’s anaesthetist, was asked by the inquiry team during his evidence if he thought that Adam’s mother should have received an acknowledgement of responsibility and liability for his death from the trust.

Mr Justice John O’Hara: Doctor, the reason you’re being asked is this: one of the real aggravating features for the families is that, not only do they lose their children, but they find that on the evidence of this inquiry, and I know that this is not necessarily the case, but, on the evidence of this inquiry, they find it exceptionally difficult to have someone from the hospital say to them ‘I’m very sorry, your child should not have died. Our care brought about your child’s death and for that we have apologise.

He spoke of the importance of such an acknowledgement for the families involved in the inquiry.

Mr Justice John O’Hara: When Adam’s mother sued the trust, she secured a confidential settlement of her claim. Entirely confidential. But as I understand it, there was no open acceptance on the part of the trust or apology for bringing about Adam’s death. Mr and Mrs Roberts did not go down the line of litgation, they took a different line, it’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s not different. They didn’t go down that line and they’ve had to wait for a long time until this inquiry started to hear people express regret. And perhaps one of the lessons from this inquiry is to remind doctors that sometimes the most humane thing they can do is simply to say to families ‘we are sorry, we made mistakes and we apologise for that.’

Dr Taylor: I understand.

Mr Justice John O’Hara: I think the question that Ms Anyadike-Danes has been asked to put to you on behalf of Adam’s mother in effect is to say: isn’t that something which could have should have been done many years ago? It won’t bring back Adam, but it will help ease her pain and her anger and her frustration about Adam’s death.

Dr Taylor: Yes

Mr Justice John O’Hara: Thank you.

Following this evidence, Mr McAlinden said he wished to explain the trust’s stance on the matter.

Mr McAlinden QC: Mr Chairman, just in relation to that issue, I know that there’s going to be further stages in this inquiry, and one will include the panel discussion where the present chief executive and the medical director and the director of nursing and I think the clinical director of the Children’s Hospital will be appearing before you. I have consulted with the board of the Belfast Trust. I don’t wish to pre-empt what will be said, but I think it’s important that the families be made aware that at the outset of any panel discussion it is the intention of the chief executive to apologise to the families for the shortcomings in the management of the Belfast Trust, both in relation to the clinical management of the patients concerned in relation to any shortcomings in governance which have been uncovered by this inquiry, and finally in relation to the conduct of the litigation in relation to the case of Strain and in in the case of any other case where which in which it has been managed had added to the distress of the families. I think, Mr Chairman, it’s important that the families are aware that this development will not be in response to what you’ve said, but has already been decided upon as the appropriate response to the evidence that has been given during this inquiry.

The inquiry continues.

© The Detail 2013