Bid to view files holds up inquiry into deaths of children

The Hyponatraemia Inquiry has been hit by a further delay as it makes an attempt to access more confidential patient files.

The Belfast Health & Social Care Trust has until tomorrow to contact three more families of former patients to ask if the inquiry can see their medical notes.

The move comes as ithe inquiry attempts to ascertain the workload of Dr Heather Steen, who was noted as the consultant in charge of Claire Roberts when she was admitted to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in October 1996. The inquiry is currently examining the case of Claire (9), who died just days after she was admitted to the hospital.

The Castlereagh girl was admitted to Allen Ward on October 21, 1996, and died on October 23. The inquiry was adjourned last month after records of patients being treated in the hospital’s Allen and Cherry Tree wards at the same time came to light.

At the time, inquiry chairman John O’Hara QC ordered the Belfast Health Trust to seek permission to allow the inquiry to examine the notes.

The matter was taken to the High Court last week when the trust was unable to secure permission from all 25 patients.

The inquiry was set to resume again yesterday but over the weekend the trust found three more patients under the care of Dr Steen at the time. The matter returned to the High Court yesterday.

Inquiry chair John O’Hara QC apologised for the latest delay and appealed to families to give permission for notes to be included.

He said: “I want to thank the families who have considered the requests which were made before… because I know this will be the last thing you want to come back at you 16 years after your son or daughter has been treated in hospital.”