The heartbroken parents of Raychel Ferguson have again critcised the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) over the manner in which it handled a series of whistle-blower allegations concerning the death of the Derry schoolgirl following an Appendix operation in Altnagelvin Hospital in 2001.
Marie and Ray Ferguson have spoken out after the Inquiry into Hyponatraemia-related Deaths (IHRD), which was led by Mr. John O’Hara, finally reported last week.
Raychel was one of five children who died of hyponatraemia - a shortage of sodium in the body - whilst in the care of local health trusts in the North between 1995 and 2003, and who were subject to the 14 year IHRD probe.
Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson have insisted on an independent probe of whistle-blower claims that evidence relating to their daughter’s case had been ‘disposed of.’
Last week Mr. O’Hara ruled that there had been a series of failings in the care the nine-years-old received after being admitted to Altnagelvin with stomach pains on June 8, 2001.
Among his recommendations were that new legislation should be enacted criminalising dishonesty on the part of health service staff.
Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson have said this new legislation should be called ‘Raychel’s Law’ in memory of their little girl.
Mr. O’Hara has said he wants to investigate the whistleblowing claims detailed in correspondence between the Directorate of Legal Services for the Health and Social Care sector and the IHRD, which were only made public between October 10, 2017 and January 26, 2018.
The claims centre on searches for documents pertaining to Raychels’ case that took place in 2004 and over 2012/13 and the alleged disposal of such documentation.
Following the late publication of the claims, Mr. O’Hara said: “The query which has been raised is whether the Inquiry was in any way mislead 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 and 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 whistle-blower’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.”
In response, the HSCB has said it will co-operate fully with the Inquiry and will provide whatever assistance is required.
“A number of concerns were raised with the Chief Executive of the Health and Social Care Board under the HSC whistle-blowing policy and as a result, the HSCB formed a three person panel (two of the members were external to the HSCB) to conduct an investigation.
“A full and thorough investigation was carried out by the panel which found no evidence to support the claims of any ‘deliberate attempt to remove evidence’ or any ‘deliberate attempt to destroy evidence or equipment contrary to the instructions regarding the need to preserve evidence for further consideration by the inquiry’.”
But Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson have issued a scathing response to the HSCB statement, declaring themselves appalled at how they were treated.
“We note with disdain and disgust the statement of the HSCB issued in the wake of the publication of the IHRD of January 31, 2018.
“The report speaks for itself and how we have suffered. Our suffering was also made plain by the chairman in his remarks on publication of the report.
“The latest attempt by the Board to cover-up the truth remains utterly appalling.”
The Fergusons said the HSCB’s “behind closed doors” investigation was not good enough.
“They have both further inflicted upon us more pain, grief and suffering.
“The sham private investigation by the board remains of no merit, impartiality or independence.
“The whistle-blowing allegations should have been brought to the attention of the Inquiry many years ago as the allegations were known long before the Inquiry were told about same.”