Child death probe unit ‘overworked’

A team set up to investigate deaths and serious injuries of children and young people known to social services cannot cope with its workload, it has warned.

Fifty-one cases – including 35 deaths – involving drug overdoses, suicides, child abuse and killings have been handed to the National Review Panel (NRP) since March last year.

The group of experts branded timelines and guidelines imposed on them by the health watchdog Hiqa as “unworkable” and “virtually impossible” because of the unexpected scale of cases being brought before them.

In its first annual report, the panel says: “With such a large and unanticipated volume of cases the question must be raised, at this very early juncture, is it necessary, or even beneficial, for every case to be reviewed.”

The panel said original estimates before it was set up in March last year suggested it would have to deal with two deaths and up to five serious incidents every year.

Professor Helen Buckley, chairwoman of the NRP, revealed she was entering talks with Hiqa within weeks in an attempt to “rationalise”, or cut down, the number of incidents it has to review.

The university academic said the panel felt it was unnecessary to investigate some cases.

Under current guidelines, it must review any serious incident that has happened to a young person known to social services within the past two years. Prof Buckley said this could include someone involved in a car accident.

Of the 51 reviews before the panel, 11 have been completed with 22 described as being actively under review.