‘Callous’ approach to family in Raychel case

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A damning and lengthy closing submission to the public inquiry into the death of Derry girl Raychel Ferguson accuses health authorities here of being “callous” in their approach to the parents of the nine year old following her death after a routine hospital operation.

In November last year the Belfast Health Trust formally apologised at the Hyponatraemia Inquiry for the shortcomings in the care of Raychel and four other children who died at the Royal Hospital in Belfast. In August the Western Health Trust admitted liability for the death of Raychel who was transferred to the Belfast hospital from Altnagelvin following surgery to have her appendix removed.

In his closing statement to the inquiry, made public on the inquiry website, solicitor Des Doherty says: “The clear realisations and modifications put quickly in place in June 2001 in the wake of Raychel’s death may be laudable but throw into sharp relief the subsequent behaviours of the medical, nursing and administrative staff of Altnagelvin towards the Fergusons to mislead and cover up what had happened from them, and indeed the Coroner.”

Mr. Doherty continued: “This knowingly added to the prolonged agony of Raychel’s parents and family. The callousness of this, as disclosed in the evidence to this inquiry, deserves particular and severe censure. It added further to the hurt and distress inflicted upon our clients.

“The parents of Raychel contend that matters could have been handled better. For the future, the Inquiry may well prescribe a more satisfactory way of handling the interaction between a Trust or hospital and the relatives where it is the case that something catastrophically fatal has gone wrong with the treatment of a relative.”

The Derry solicitor said relatives’ concerns should be taken much more seriously than they had in the case of Raychel.

“The evidence that the Inquiry has received supports the view that the opinions and reactions of parents of a sick or ailing child should be taken very seriously, and factored into the analysis of the medical and nursing staff. It seems incontrovertible that this did not happen in Raychel’s case.”

In his final submission, Mr. Doherty also describes Raychel’s death as “tragic and avoidable.”

“The explanation of how a healthy nine year-old girl died in a modern hospital only 12 years ago requires addressing,” he said.

“Generally the failure to disseminate information appropriately and accurately as between medical staff and to the family lies at the core of the mismanagement and failing, which led to Raychel’s utterly unnecessary death,” he added.

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