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Thursday 14 December 2017

Parents of pseudomonas victim to sue NI health minister

Lisa Smyth

The family of the last baby to die during a pseudomonas outbreak at a Northern Ireland hospital have vowed to take legal action and have hit out at an independent review into the tragedy.

The solicitor acting on behalf of the parents of the baby said they do not believe nursing staff at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC) are responsible.

However, he said they believe their child’s death was preventable and that health trust bosses and the health minister must be held to account for failings that led to the death of their baby.

Ernie Waterworth said: “There are a number of key issues that my clients raised with Edwin Poots and with the team reviewing the outbreaks and none of them have been addressed, despite an assurance from the Health Minister that they would.

“The report is a fudge. The next step will be legal action.”

An independent review into two outbreaks at the neonatal units at the RBHSC and Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry that claimed the lives of four premature babies highlighted a series of shocking blunders.

But it stopped short of pointing the finger of blame at any particular person or organisation.

Pseudomonas is a germ that thrives in moist conditions and can be found in most households. It is harmless to most people but can be deadly to people whose immune system is suppressed, such as premature babies.

Mr Waterworth added: “My clients firmly believe that if action had been taken sooner their baby would still be alive.

“Although the baby was premature, medical notes show that it was recovering and thriving. The cause of death was pseudomonas.

“Their baby was born on January 11 and moved to the unit at the Royal because it was premature. The family want to know why their baby was moved there even though they knew there was a pseudomonas infection on the ward.

“The first baby there died on January 6 and the trust knew on January 8 that it died as a result of pseudomonas. Despite this, my clients were not told anything about a pseudomonas infection. The first they heard of pseudomonas was when they were handed a leaflet on January 18. Their baby died on January 19.”

Mr Waterworth said the mother of the baby received a telephone call from a nurse in the unit on January 14 to tell her she had accidentally cut the baby while removing a line.

“When the mother went in to the hospital, there were three cuts — on the cheek, left arm and foot.

“Information about the cuts was not recorded on the baby’s medical notes, or the notes are missing. This was not addressed in the review.

“Another issue they raised which they have not had any answers to was the fact that another child of theirs was nursed in the same ward three years previously. At the time, babies in the unit were being washed in sterile water. However, when their baby was being treated there in January it was being washed in warm tap water. The family wants to know when a decision was made to stop washing babies in sterile water.”

Kieran McCarthy, a member of the Stormont health committee, said it is unacceptable that no-one has been made accountable for the mistakes identified in the report.


•September 15, 2010: Letter sent to senior NHS management in Northern Ireland warning of the dangers of pseudomonas infection from taps and basins.

•December 2011: Outbreak of pseudomonas confirmed at neonatal ward of Altnagelvin Hospital. One baby subsequently died. An investigation finds the source of the infection is the taps.

•December 22, 2011: Health officials resend the September letter, but do not mention that a baby has died.

•January 6, 2012: A premature baby being treated at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital dies from pseudomonas.

•January 13, 2012: A second premature baby dies in the same ward at the Royal.

•January 16, 2012: Tests show a link between the two babies' deaths in the Royal.

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