‘Concerted action’ pledged on Inquiry report

Date published: 02 February 2018

Health and Social Care leaders from across Northern Ireland met today to discuss the report from the Inquiry into Hyponatraemia-related Deaths.

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In a series of meetings, senior Departmental officials met with chief executives and chairs of organisations across the Health and Social Care (HSC) system.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: “This has been a devastating week for the families affected by the events considered by the Inquiry.  In addition, everyone involved in Health and Social Care will have been affected and will have cause to reflect on the findings. This is true for all staff, at every level.

“It is essential that those of us with leadership responsibilities now take concerted and prompt action to address the issues raised in the Report, and reassert the primacy of patient safety and work diligently to rebuild public confidence in the care provided, whether in hospitals, the community or primary care.

“We owe this to the families first and foremost, as well as to patients and other people who use our services across the province and the great many HSC staff who strive to do the right thing, often in very challenging circumstances.”

To give a clear focus on the work, Mr Pengelly explained that he will be establishing a dedicated team, led by the Department and answerable to him, to develop a detailed action plan in response to the 96 recommendations in the Report.

Mr Pengelly said:  “A critical element in the success of this work will be engagement with the public we serve, particularly those affected.

 “A key early priority for the team will be the finalisation of legislative and policy options for an incoming Minister on the establishment of a legal duty of candour for health care professionals. Building on a previous Ministerial commitment to this principle, preparatory work on policy and legislation has been undertaken.

“Trusts, as employers, will address issues relating to individuals named in the Report. Contact has already been made with the independent National Clinical Assessment Service and the General Medical Council (GMC) and agreement has been reached on the approach in relation to the concerns raised by the Inquiry regarding doctors’ actions.  The General Medical Council, which regulates all doctors in the UK, requires any doctor who is criticised in an Inquiry to inform the GMC. We expect full compliance with this requirement. A way forward is also being discussed with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

“Everyone who attended today’s meetings is in no doubt that public confidence has been damaged.

“Some reassurance can be provided from the Inquiry Report’s observation that ‘lessons have been learnt’ and that ‘the Health Service environment has most definitely been transformed since the period under review’.  However, whilst true, this should not be a cause for complacency as there remains much to do.  

“The Report also warned of ‘a remnant culture of clinical defensiveness’ and we must do all in our power to ensure a culture of openness and integrity throughout HSC.”

The Permanent Secretary also stated that the necessary support and resources are being made available to Mr Justice O’Hara to further explore the issue of a whistleblower’s complaint.

Notes to editors: 

1. Chairman’s Note on whistle-blower inquiry 30 January 2018.

2. In a statement issued on Tuesday night, the chair of the Inquiry into Hyponatraemia-related Deaths Mr Justice O’Hara said: ““In recent weeks an issue about documents and records has emerged through a whistle-blower. That person raised a number of issues including one about assurances given to the Inquiry in relation to searches for documents in 2004 and 2012/13. The query which has been raised is whether the Inquiry was in any way misled when it was told about the extent of searches for documents which might have been expected to be found among records from what was the Western Health & Social Services Board. That is an issue which concerned the Inquiry when it sought to investigate communications between Sperrin Lakeland Trust and the WHSSB following the death of Lucy Crawford in 2000. It led to extensive correspondence and then to questioning of witnesses on that issue among others. I have required the production to me of the documents generated by the whistleblower’s complaint. On an initial examination of them I have formed the view that this issue needs to be explored further. I have met the Permanent Secretary of the DoH, Mr Pengelly, to advise him of the need to investigate this issue and obtain reassurance that adequate resourcing will be provided to the Inquiry for that purpose. He has readily accepted that notwithstanding the release of the report tomorrow, the Inquiry will continue for the purpose of investigating the issues involved in and surrounding the whistle-blower’s complaint. I will have whatever support and resources I need for that purpose.”

3. For media enquiries please contact the Department of Health Press Office on 028 9052 0575 or email. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07623 974373 and your call will be returned.

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