Page last updated at 21:35 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 22:35 UK

Apology follows swine flu delay

Orla O'Kane
Orla O'Kane's family was told she had swine flu two days after her funeral

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has apologised to the family of a 14-year-old Londonderry girl for a delay in telling them she had swine flu.

Orla O'Kane's family was told she had swine flu two days after her funeral. She was a pupil at a special school.

An emergency meeting was held on Monday to discuss how the case was handled.

"This was clearly unacceptable and only created further anxiety for a family who were grieving for their child," Mr McGimpsey said.

He said that urgent action would now be taken, including putting arrangements in place to offer the swine flu vaccine to children and young people in special schools as soon as possible.

Further guidance to healthcare professionals on the follow-up and communication of all positive H1N1 (swine flu) results to patients will also be issued.

The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, will also release updated advice in relation to funeral arrangements and the handling of remains.

Mr McGimpsey asked Dr McBride to hold an urgent meeting of relevant organisations to determine what exactly happened in this case.

"Following his meetings today, the chief medical officer has advised me that there are still some matters which require clarification but what is clear is that there has been an unacceptable breakdown in communication," he said.

"Dr McBride has advised me of immediate steps that need to be taken and I have asked that he provide me with a full report on this matter and any further actions necessary as soon as possible.

"Orla's death has also highlighted the particular vulnerability of children in special schools to the complications of swine flu."

The Western Trust has said it will prevent similar delays in future.

It said it "regretted" distress caused to the O'Kane family by the delay.

Orla, who had cerebral palsy, was a pupil at Foyle View Special School. The principal, Michael Dobbins, said that staff and pupils were "devastated" by her death.

There have now been five confirmed cases of swine flu at the school.

Three pupils have made a full recovery and one pupil is still in hospital.

Mr Dobbins said that he was continuing to liaise with the Public Health Agency about what action to take.

"The advice was to continue as normal, that if any child presents with any symptoms, they should be kept in quarantine and their parents sent for," Mr Dobbins said.

The O'Kane family are said to be especially concerned because her school friends and elderly neighbours were among those who attended the wake.

Another member of the family is now said to be suffering from the virus.

It said anyone who thinks that they may have symptoms of swine flu should contact their GP or out-of-hours service by telephone for advice and assessment.

Orla is the seventh person from Northern Ireland who has died while suffering from the virus.

Five died in NI while the other two victims died in England and Spain.

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