Trusts apologise for ‘inexcusable failures’ in psychiatric treatment

Two health trusts have publicly apologised for “inexcusable failures” surrounding the psychiatric treatment of a suicidal woman who smothered her daughter and then took her own life.

In a joint statement the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and Western Health and Social Care Trust accepted the death of Madeleine O’Neill’s nine-year-old daughter Lauren should never have occurred.

The authorities’ expressions of remorse formed part of the settlement of two civil actions where they admitted negligence and breach of statutory duty, and agreed to pay five figure damages and costs to Mrs O’Neill’s family and her estranged husband John O’Neill.
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Inquests into the two deaths, which were due to open next week, will not now take place.

Mrs O’Neill and Lauren were found dead in their home at Manse Road, Carryduff in July 2005.

Before she hanged herself the 41-year-old had told health professionals she thought about killing both herself and her daughter.

At a previous preliminary hearing it was disclosed that she used an internet search engine to find information on how to end her life and that of her child.

Her former husband John O’Neill said at the time he had no idea she had told doctors she might harm Lauren.

The first he had known was months after they died, when police told him they had found it in Madeline’s medical notes.


Following the settlement of his lawsuit and another brought by Mrs O’Neill’s family, the Trusts issued their apology at Belfast Coroners Court, setting out their failings in detail.

Mrs O’Neill had developed an acute psychiatric illness in May 2005 which required both inpatient and outpatient treatment.

She relapsed and was admitted to Knockbracken Health Care Park in June. Four days later she was transferred to Gransha Hospital, Londonderry where she remained until her release following a two-week stay.

“During the course of her treatment Madeleine O’Neill made disclosures to some of those treating her that she intended to take her own life and that of Lauren O’Neill,” the statement said.

“The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Western Health and Social Care Trust accept that there was a failure to act properly or appropriately on these disclosures so as to ensure that all relevant arrangements were put in place for the protection of Lauren.

“They further accept that there was a failure to inform John O’Neill of the content of any of these disclosures.

“The Trusts accept that these failures were inexcusable.”

Both authorities accepted “unconditionally and unreservedly” their failings over a large number of serious allegations made by Mr O’Neill about his wife’s treatment.

The statement added: “The Trusts recognise and acknowledge that Lauren O’Neill’s death should never have occurred.”

It was stressed that since the deaths both authorities have worked to ensure no such tragedy can be allowed to happen again.

A full independent review of the circumstances surrounding Mrs O’Neill’s treatment and communication failures has been carried out, with all findings accepted unequivocally by both Trusts.

Northern Ireland’s senior coroner, John Leckey, was also told that neither Mr O’Neill nor his wife’s family wanted the planned inquests to proceed.

Mr Leckey, who agreed to instead register the two deaths, also stressed the major public interest in the case.

He added: “What I find particularly upsetting is the death of a nine-year-old girl.”

Mr O’Neill, who was in court for the apology, declined to comment afterwards.