Twelve years on trust admits liability for fluid death of Raychel

Raychel Ferguson died at the age of 10 in June 2001

Raychel Ferguson died at the age of 10 in June 2001

By Niall McCracken

MORE than 12 years after Raychel Ferguson died as a result of being overloaded with fluid at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, the trust involved has finally admitted liability and apologised “unreservedly” to her family.

The announcement was made to the O’Hara Inquiry examining the death of Raychel (9) and other children through maladministration of intravenous fluids here and follows several days of intense scrutiny at hearings of the continued denial of liability by the Western Trust and the HSCB’s Directorate of Legal Services in spite of an inquest finding ten years ago and voluminous evidence at the inquiry itself.

Michael Stitt QC, acting for the Trust under instructions from DLS raised the issue as a preliminary matter “to do with the litigation” as today’s hearing got under way.

Mr Stitt: “I don’t need to rehearse the background; I think we’re all familiar with the action which has been brought by the family and the position of the non-admission of liability which has existed. I’m instructed to make a statement in relation to that if you would permit me to that, Sir.”

Mr Justice O’Hara: “I will.”

Mr Stitt: “The trust, having taken into account the evidence heard during this inquiry including independent expert evidence and the interim comments of the Chairman, formally admits liability. The trust apologises unreservedly for Raychel’s death and regrets any further hurt and distress that the delay in admitting liability has caused the family.”

Mr Justice O’Hara:: Thank-you very much, Mr Stitt. I’m delighted. Thank-you and I hope that helps the family."

For more background information on the issues being examined by the Hyponatraemia Inquiry please click here.

Earlier this week the inquiry, chaired by Mr Justice O’Hara, reopened after the summer break; this section focusing on the governance issues around Raychel’s death, including the corporate handling of its aftermath.

On Tuesday both Mr Justice O’Hara and Counsel to the Inquiry, Monye Anyadike-Danes QC, scrutinised the trust and DLS’s position on litigation and the inquest into Raychel’s death in 2003. For full coverage of that hearing, click here.

At Tuesday’s hearing Ms Anyadike-Danes said:

“Given the verdict at inquest, the experts’ opinions and the findings at the review, it’s not immediately apparent, even now, why liability was not admitted then and has not yet been admitted. It has remained the trust’s position throughout all those intervening years and the PSNI investigation and these deliberations at the inquiry that there was no negligence on its part.

“The depth of the feelings of Raychel’s parents about the trust’s failure to concede liability for their daughter’s death is reflected in the opening submissions that were delivered by their senior counsel and indeed their own testimony.

“Any unjustified denial of liability is not only a clinical governance matter and an issue touching upon public confidence in and respect for the health service but as you might find, Mr Chairman, is of concern because of any additional and unnecessary hurt and distress that might be caused to the family by such a failure to admit fault.

“But also it impedes open investigation and, therefore, from the point of view of this inquiry, and governance, learning lessons and disseminating those lessons, but it will be a matter for you to determine, Mr Chairman, in the light of all of this, the appropriateness of the trust’s conduct towards the family.”

Later in that day’s hearing Mr Stitt acknowledged that the findings of the coroner had been known since 2003 but said “there are and there were certain technical issues” which remained.

He said that since the inquiry was set up in 2005, the trust had stated that “if it was found to be at fault in any way, then we make it absolutely clear that it would be deeply apologetic for its failings”.

Mr Stitt QC: “The position is that the trust has maintained its position since the inception of the inquiry that liability has not been admitted, but it will read the findings of the inquiry carefully and will respond appropriately to the details of your findings, sir, when they are made. That has been the position which has been articulated more than once in correspondence and more than once in the High Court.”

Mr Justice O’Hara: “I’m sorry, does that mean the trust’s position on the High Court litigation is pending while I finish the inquiry and write the report?”

Mr Stitt QC: “Yes.”

Mr Justice O’Hara: “The trust has heard a run of witnesses go through the witness box, one after another, and admit in different ways failing after failing after failing, and it can’t make a decision on what to do in the High Court until I write a report about that? I’m sorry, Mr Stitt, that’s almost unbelievable.”

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