Northern Ireland

Pseudomonas response criticised by Stormont health committee chairman

The Department of Health's response to the pseudomonas outbreak has been criticised by the vice-chairman of Stormont's health committee.

Jim Wells said it was unfortunate a memo sent by the chief medical officer three days before Christmas failed to mention that a child had died.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) is investigating the four deaths in December and January.

Assembly members have been discussing the outbreak on Tuesday.

Three babies died in the Royal Jubilee Maternity Unit in January, while another newborn died at Londonderry's Altnagelvin Hospital in December.

Mr Wells said: "Though it has been refuted by the department, I have to say that it's inevitable that memo may in some instances have sat in an in-tray for action after Christmas."

The DUP assembly member added that he wanted to commend Health Minister Edwin Poots for his handling of the outbreak.

During the debate, Mr Poots revealed that dealing with the pseudomonas crisis has been the worst experience in his political life.

The health minister said it was the hardest task having to tell families that their baby's death could have been avoidable.

He told the assembly he hoped he never had to do it again.


Kieran McCarthy of the Alliance Party said the wording of the Sinn Fein motion was "much too weak".

He said rather than the outbreak being "noted with concern", the wording should have been replaced by "shock" and "horror".

"The interim report is a damning indictment of neglect, incompetence and plain tardiness to react to a very serious set of circumstances," he said.

Mr McCarthy said he hoped that Mr Poots would "accept the failures" which led to the "shocking deaths of four innocent babies".

According to interim findings published last month, the Belfast Health Trust should have declared the outbreak sooner.

The review team criticised a lack of communication between health officials and found there was no common approach across neonatal units for declaring an outbreak.

The first stage of the review addressed the causes and impact of the outbreak, and the full report is due by the end of May.

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