Northern Ireland

Hyponatraemia inquiry: Belfast Health trust apologises to families

Hospital
Image caption The children died while in the care of Belfast Health Trust

The Belfast Health Trust has formally apologised for the shortcomings in the care of five children who died at the Royal Hospitals in Belfast.

The trust's chief executive, Colm Donaghy, told the hyponatraemia inquiry that the agony and pain felt by the parents cannot be underestimated.

Hyponatraemia is an abnormally low level of sodium in blood and can occur when fluids are given incorrectly.

However, the families said the trust's apology had come too late.

The families added that the way they had been treated was disgraceful.

Mr Donaghy said, on behalf of the trust, that it regrets most sincerely the pain and suffering experienced by the families of Adam Strain, Claire Roberts, Lucy Crawford, Raychel Ferguson and Conor Mitchell.

Hurt

The mothers of Claire and Raychel wept as the chief executive read the apology.

Later, Raychel's mother Marie told the BBC: "This inquiry's coming to an end now this week, but it's not the end for us.

"We still, every day, live with the pain that we're not going to see our children again.

"What we want now is accountability - people have to be held accountable for our children's deaths and I'm calling on the PSNI to look at this again."

Mr Donaghy acknowledged how litigation had been handled by the trust had added to the hurt and grief felt by the families.

He went on to apologise unreservedly for the unacceptable delay in the Belfast Health Trust's handling of litigation and accepting of liability.

Image caption Chief executive Colm Donaghy apologised to families on behalf of the Belfast Health Trust

The inquiry was established in 2005 but has been postponed on several occasions.

The inquiry is examining the deaths of three children, Adam Strain, Claire Roberts and Raychel Ferguson. It is also investigating the events following the deaths of Lucy Crawford and Conor Mitchell.

All of the children died in Belfast hospitals. In relation to four of the deaths, hyponatraemia is said to be a contributing factor.

Raychel Ferguson was treated initially at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry while Conor was cared for initially at Craigavon Area Hospital before being moved to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

"It is clear that important aspects of the care and treatment afforded to the children at Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children - in particular, fluid management - was poor," Mr Donaghy added.

'Missed opportunity'

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Media captionRelatives of the children who died said the trust's apology had come too late

"Communication with families was not sufficiently transparent.

"Our medical and nursing staff missed the opportunity to reflect on what may have gone wrong and consequently there was a lack of communication with the wider acute hospitals network in Northern Ireland and the Department of Health."

Mr Donaghy also told the inquiry's chairman, Mr Justice O'Hara, that in all his years as a chief executive, the inquiry had had the "most significant impact" on my trust in terms of the learning from it.

"There is no member of staff who has remained untouched by the inquiry's impact," he said.

The inquiry is trying to establish who, within the Department of Health, knew about the deaths of the five children and, if they knew, why the information was not acted upon.

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