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Unanimous support for council motion on ‘Raychel’s Law’ campaign

Thursday, 1 March 2018

A CAMPAIGN to introduce a new law imposing a legal duty on doctors and other health professionals to admit mistakes has received unanimous support from councillors on Derry City and Strabane District Council.

The push for a 'duty of candour' follows the inquiry into the hypnotraemia-related (a shortage of sodium in the body) deaths of five children in Northern Ireland's hospitals, which found that four of them were avoidable.

Leading the campaign is the family of Raychel Ferguson who died in a Belfast hospital in 2001.

It has been determined that she died after being administered a lethal dose of intravenous fluid after her appendix was removed following a procedure at Altnagelvin Hospital.

The inquiry into the deaths, led by John O'Hara, recommended a new statutory duty of candour that would compel health care organisations to be "open and honest" and impose criminal liability on anyone in breach of this duty.

A petition has been launched by Raychel's parents, Marie and Ray Ferguson, who want the new law named 'Raychel's Law'.

Their campaign is being supported by the family of Maureen McGinley (78) who died of natural causes at Altnagelvin Hospital on January 3, 2007.

Ten weeks after her death the family were informed by Health Trust officials that she had sustained 34 rib fractures and a neck injury after her death. The family is still campaigning to ascertain how exactly their late mother sustained the injuries.

At Thursday's monthly meeting of council, Sinn Fein's Patricia Logue tabled a motion supporting the campaign for the new legislation.

She moved that council sends its condolences and expresses solidarity with the families of Raychel Ferguson, Conor Mitchell, Claire Roberts, Adam Strain and Lucy Crawford.

She further proposed that "this council states that we fully and wholeheartedly support the campaign from Raychel Ferguson's family for the introduction of Raychel's Law/the demand for a statutory duty of candour in honour of those children who have died as a result of hyponatraemia."

 

Speaking to the motion, Cllr Logue said: "Most people will wonder in this day and age how such things happen and why it took 13 years for the truth to emerge.

"The shock and grief was compounded by the knowledge that families knew from the beginning that there was information regarding these avoidable deaths.

 

"In fact, to quote the words of the inquiry chairperson, Justice O'Hara, "the truth had to be dragged from the clinicians". They behaved evasively, dishonestly and ineptly. Can you imagine the pain these families went through?"

"This couldn't have done anything else other than to destroy family life as they once knew it. There were cover ups and this is inexcusable."

She added: "In proposing this motion I'm very conscious that there are a number of families who have been tragically affected by this issue and may have a different view on the name of any law but this motion is centrally about bringing a duty of candour in the health service."

The DUP's Hilary McClintock in supporting the motion said there must be "honesty and openness" in the health service.

"The 96 recommendations in the inquiry report must be fully implemented to make sure that tragedies of this nature do not occur again. This would be a small legacy in memory of their little ones.

"There must be honesty and openness as a result. As the report states; leadership and candour must be accorded the utmost priority if the fullest learning is to be gained from the errors that so tragically happened and it is essential that all healthcare professionals understand what is expected of them in relation to reporting serious, adverse incidents."

 

The SDLP's Angela Dobbins who seconded the motion said the inquiry report was "shocking and a damning indictment of a system that sought to protect the reputation of individuals rather than admit to its shortcomings and failures that led ultimately to the death of young children."

She added: "We must all work to ensure no family is subjected to this ordeal again."

Independent councillors Gary Donnelly, Warren Robinson, Maurice Devenney and the UUP's Mary Hamilton also spoke of their support for the campaign.

Strabane Sinn Fein councillor, Karina Carlin, in supporting the motion also paid tribute to the McGinley family who are supporting the Ferguson in their quest.

"One of the foremost campaigners in our area in relation to the need for a duty of candour is the McGinley family who have also suffered very grievously because of a lack of candour on the part of the health trust.

"My thoughts are with them in addition to the families of those youngsters who are named in Cllr Logue's motion."

The motion received unanimous backing across the council chamber.

The passing of the motion will also see the council write to the Department of Health and "urge it to begin proceedings that will introduce a statutory duty of candour."

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