Nurses must have separate legal teams, Raychel death inquiry told

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Nurses from the Western Health Trust who were due to give evidence at a public enquiry into the death of a nine year-old Derry must be offered separate legal representation.

The hyponatraemia inquiry is currently examining clinical evidence in relation to Raychel Ferguson who died after being transferred to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children following surgery at Altnagelvin Hospital in June, 2001.

One legal team has been representing the entire Western Health Trust so far in the tribunal but the inquiry’s chairman John O’Hara QC, said yesterday that could not continue due to a conflict of interest. Mr O’Hara ruled that the Western Health Trust’s legal team cannot represent all the doctors and nurses involved in Raychel’s case. It’s been well documented that the doctors’ and nurses’ versions of what happened in the treatment of Raychel were in stark contrast.

Mr O’Hara QC said each nurse should be offered separate legal representation. While the inquiry will continue, the nurses’ evidence will now not begin to be heard until February 15.

Hyponatraemia, which can be fatal, is the term for a low level of sodium in the blood stream causing the brain cells to swell with too much water. The inquiry has heard of a process in Altnagelvin hospital “with no clear structure and no acceptance of responsibility between members of staff”. It has heard how after surgery to remove her appendix, Raychel became seriously ill and died on June 7, 2001.

Expert witnesses have questioned whether surgeons acted too quickly and why her parents were not properly informed that the operation was taking place.

There has also been severe criticism about a lack of record-keeping.

The inquiry is also examining the deaths of Adam Strain (4) and Claire Roberts (9), while investigating events following the deaths of Lucy Crawford (17 months) and specific issues around the treatment of Conor Mitchell (15).