Doctor struck off for ‘repeated dishonesty’ over death of child in 1995

A doctor who attempted to cover up the true circumstances of the death in 1995 of a four-year-old patient has been struck off.

Consultant paediatric anaesthetist Dr Robert Taylor dishonestly misled police and a public inquiry about his treatment of Adam Strain, who died at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, a medical tribunal found.

The youngster was admitted for a kidney transplant at the hospital following renal failure but did not survive surgery in November 1995.

Six months later an inquest ruled Adam (pictured) died from cerebral oedema – brain swelling – partly due to the onset of dilutional hyponatraemia, which occurs when there is a shortage of sodium in the bloodstream.

Two expert anaesthetists told the coroner that the administration of an excess volume of fluids containing small amounts of sodium caused the hyponatraemia.

But Dr Taylor resisted any criticism of his fluid management and refused to accept the condition had been caused by his administration of too much of the wrong type of fluid.

In 2004 a UTV documentary When Hospitals Kill raised concerns about the treatment of a number of children, including Adam, and led to the launch of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry.

Dr Taylor maintained his stance in a statement to the inquiry in 2005 and in an interview in 2006 with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), who were investigating Adam’s death.

It was not until 2012 that he finally accepted, ahead of giving evidence to the public inquiry, that fluid mismanagement had led to Adam’s death, a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) hearing was told.

The MPTS tribunal found Dr Taylor acted dishonestly on four occasions in his dealings with the the public inquiry and PSNI, including failing to disclose to the inquiry a number of clinical errors he made and falsely claiming to detectives he spoke to Adam’s mother before surgery.

It did not find Dr Taylor acted dishonestly in his evidence at the inquest but said he failed to disclose highly relevant information.

The tribunal determined that his dishonest conduct was “an attempt to cover up the truth and mislead both the inquiry and PSNI” and had impaired his fitness to practise, along with his disclosure failure at the inquest.

Dr Taylor did not attend the virtual hearing and has said he has retired.

Announcing Dr Taylor’s erasure from the medical register, tribunal chair Graham White said: “The tribunal was satisfied that in the absence of any evidence of insight into and remediation of his dishonesty, there is a real risk of repetition.

“The inquest, inquiry and police investigation were all seeking to establish, in the public interest, how and why Patient A (Adam) had died and to learn lessons from his death.

“The tribunal has determined that Dr Taylor had a professional duty of candour to explain his actions and to assist in each inquiry.

“He failed to comply with that duty, repeatedly seeking to evade responsibility. Worse he lied. In doing so, he plainly demonstrated a blatant disregard for safeguards designed to protect members of the public and the wider public interest.

“Therefore, the tribunal concluded that no lesser sanction than erasure would adequately promote and maintain public confidence in the medical profession and promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct for members of that profession.”

The General Medical Council has brought a similar misconduct case against another senior medic whose treatment of another child at the Royal Belfast featured in the hyponatraemia inquiry.

Dr Heather Steen is said by the GMC to have tried to cover up the circumstances of the death of nine-year-old Claire Roberts in October 1996 to “avoid scrutiny of failings in her care”.

The consultant paediatrician denies the allegations being heard by a separate tribunal which is due to reconvene in September.

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