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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 14:44 GMT
'Public' hospital deaths inquiry
Raychel Ferguson
Raychel Ferguson's death will be one of those investigated
An inquiry into the deaths of three children in hospitals in Northern Ireland will hear evidence in public.

The inquiry was announced after a television programme alleged that the children died needlessly from a shortage of sodium in the body.

Health minister Angela Smith said it was important that the inquiry is "open and transparent".

John O'Hara QC will conduct the inquiry into the deaths of Raychel Ferguson, Lucy Crawford and Adam Strain.

'Comprehensive and rigorous'

Ms Smith announced the terms of reference for the inquiry on Thursday.

She said: "I believe it is of the highest importance that the general public has confidence in the quality and standards of care provided by our health and social services.

"The death of any child is tragic and it is essential that the investigation into these deaths is independent, comprehensive and rigorous.

"The terms of reference I have set for the inquiry and the powers available to it are wide-ranging and should ensure that the inquiry deals with all the issues of concern."

The inquiry will examine the events surrounding the deaths of the children.

The UTV programme claimed the children died needlessly from a condition known as hyponatraemia, a shortage of sodium in the body - and that one of the deaths was covered up.

Health minister Angela Smith
I can confirm that it is the intention that the questioning of key witnesses will be conducted in public
Angela Smith
Health Minister

The minister said the inquiry would look at the care and treatment of the children, especially in relation to the management of fluid balance and the choice and administration of intravenous fluids in each case.

It will also look at the explanations given to the families by the relevant authorities.

In addition, Mr O'Hara will have the discretion to examine and report on any other relevant matters which arise in connection with the Inquiry.

The minister said the inquiry would be "open and transparent".

Key witnesses

"The detailed arrangements for the conduct of the inquiry will be a matter for Mr O'Hara," she said.

"However, I can confirm that it is the intention that the questioning of key witnesses will be conducted in public.

"Moreover, Mr O'Hara will have the power to require any person to attend and give evidence and to furnish information to any matter in question at the inquiry.

"In addition, all formal statements provided to the inquiry will be placed in the public domain and the final report from the inquiry will be published.


SEE ALSO:
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Fall in NI waiting lists
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Fracture waiting lists at record level
23 Jan 03 |  Northern Ireland
NI waiting lists 'worst in Europe'
20 Feb 02 |  Northern Ireland
Organs inquiry contacts parents
23 May 01 |  Northern Ireland


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