Northern Ireland

Document emerges at hyponatraemia inquiry

Claire Roberts
Image caption The inquiry heard that Claire Roberts was given too much fluid and medication

A document which could be potentially significant in the inquiry into the deaths of children in a Belfast hospital has emerged almost a year after the inquiry team asked for the information.

Claire Roberts, 9, died at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC) in 1996.

The hearing was told she was overdosed with medication and excess fluids.

Her parents wept as details of her death were read out.

The document could establish the whereabouts of a senior consultant who was allegedly looking after her.

Claire had been admitted to hospital following vomiting and drowsiness. Doctors prescribed intravenous fluids.

Two days later, Claire suffered a respiratory arrest and never recovered.

Her parents Alan and Jennifer were told she had suffered brain death but that incident was never reported to the coroner.

They wept in court as they heard their daughter had been given 300% more medication than what was prescribed.

In an interview with BBC Northern Ireland, Claire's parents said they should not have had to wait 16 years for the information.

They said it had been a "difficult day to get through".

"No family should have to go through that length of time to wait to hear the truth about how their child has died in a major hospital," Alan Roberts said.

The document was produced by the solicitor for Dr Heather Steen - a senior consultant paediatrician.

The information could establish Dr Steen's whereabouts the day before Claire died.


Claire's death is one of five children's deaths that are being investigated, the others are Adam Strain who was four when he died at the RBHSC in 1995; Lucy Crawford was 17 months - she was initially treated at the Erne hospital in Enniskillen in 2000.

Nine-year-old Raychel Ferguson died in 2001 after having been initially treated in Altnagelvin hospital and Conor Mitchell who was 15 when he died in the RBHSC in 2003.

In Claire's case, the inquiry is examining around a dozen clinical issues including who exactly was in charge of Claire's care as that is not clear from hospital notes.

The inquiry team is also investigating whether the medication was appropriate and why doctors were not informed by nurses that Claire had suffered seizures while in hospital.

Among other key clinical issues that the inquiry is examining in relation to Claire's death is which consultant was in charge of the child's care, whether it was Dr Heather Steen, a consultant paediatrician, or Dr David Webb, a consultant paediatric neurologist.

A huge and embarrassing question for the Belfast health trust is whether any confusion over who was in charge of Claire's care led to failings in her treatment and subsequent death.

The issue of fluid management is central to the hyponatraemia inquiry.

Claire Roberts' parents sought a reinvestigation into their daughter's death after seeing a UTV Insight programme on another hyponatraemia-related death.

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