Northern Ireland

Solicitor of pseudomonas family call for police to investigate deaths

Ernie Waterworth
Image caption Solicitor Ernie Waterworth says his clients feel let down by a lack of specifics in a report into the pseudomonas outbreak.

The solicitor for a family whose baby died of pseudomonas in Londonderry has said police must now get involved in investigating the deaths of four infants in neo-natal units.

Walter Hegarty is representing the parents of Caolan Burke, the first baby to die from the infection in Altnagelvin in Londonderry.

A report into the outbreak made 32 recommendations.

The families solicitors have questioned why no-one has been held accountable.

Mr Hegarty said the investigation must now step up a gear.

"My clients want to see the health minister sending this report to the chief constable and the director of public prosecution service under the corporate manslaughter legislation, to see whether or not charges should be brought. Remember four children died in this."

He said the lack of accountability throughout the report was also worrying and disappointing.

There has been further criticism from another lawyer, who says the parents of " baby three" feel let down by the health minister who assured them that specific concerns would be addressed.

Their child was the last child to die from pseudomonas during the outbreak in the Royal's neo-natal unit.

Ernie Waterworth said they too will be pursuing other legal avenues.

A report into the infection outbreak, which was published on 31 May, does not address specific issues raised by families, he said.

Mr Waterworth said his clients will continue pursuing the truth.

"The minister previously promised them that all their concerns would be addressed and none of them have been. At our private meeting with Prof Pat Troop, I raised specific questions, questions my clients want answered, and they are still waiting."

Concerns

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Waterworth explained that the family he represents still have many concerns.

"They have asked why their baby was placed in the Royal Jubilee Maternity's neo-natal unit, despite doctors knowing that the infection was there and that other babies had died."

The parents of Caolan Burke, who died in Altnagelvin's neo natal unit in December, also asked why the Western Health Trust did not report to the coroner that the cause of death was pseudomonas.

Instead, the original letter suggests the cause of death was extreme prematurity.

However, this changed on 20 December, more than a week later, when, after media reports, the coroner was informed in additional documentation that the cause of the baby's death was pseudomonas.

The lack of communication between health trusts and staff were identified in the review. Prof Pat Troop said this was in relation to the families but also between health trusts and the various health organisations.

Prof Troop, who chaired the review, interviewed all of the families involved in the outbreak.

Specifics

However, according to two solicitors representing families in both Londonderry and Belfast, the review does not address the specifics.

According to Mr Waterworth, on 14 January 2012 the mother of 'baby three' received a call from the neo-natal unit where the baby was being cared for.

A nurse explained that their baby's skin had been torn in three places while attempts were made to remove an intravenous line.

The tears in the skin were on the cheek, arm and leg.

Mr Waterworth said hopes had been raised at the private interviews that answers would be provided.

"We raised this with the review team but again there is no mention of this in her report. Obviously the tears in the skin and the non-sterile water could have been the source for pseudomonas."

Image caption Walter Hegarty says it must be remembered that four babies died in the outbreak.

On Thursday afternoon, the Stormont health committee, whose role it is to scrutinise those who run Northern Ireland's health service, asked "who the buck needed to stop with".

The SDLP's Conall McDevitt pushed the issue of accountability during the health committee briefing.

"All we seem to do after a crisis and tragedy like this is learn lessons about lessons.

"But, as I asked Prof Troop, who owns the problem who is taking accountability? As far as I can see, no-one.

"That's not good enough when we are taking about babies dying."

Prof Pat Troop said it was not within her remit to find fault, only to highlight the problems and try to signpost solutions.

Health Minister Edwin Poots, who commissioned the review, said he would act "swiftly and effectively" to implement all 32 recommendations contained in the team's final report.

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