Hyponatraemia inquiry: Civil servants promise action in ‘12-18 months’

Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly
Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly

Despite the political deadlock at Stormont, the civil servants running the Department of Health say they hope to implement the “vast majority” of changes recommended by the Inquiry into Hyponatraemia-Related Deaths.

The inquiry looked at the deaths of five children – Raychel Ferguson, Claire Roberts, Adam Strain, Conor Mitchell and Lucy Crawford – due to hyponatraemia, a condition brought about by abnormally low levels of sodium in the blood.

It found that four of the five deaths were preventable and recommended a series of sweeping changes to the health and social care system in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health published a detailed update on progress on those recommendations on Thursday.

The top civil servant at the department, Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly, admitted that the political crisis is holding back some of the recommendations but stressed that work was still moving forward.

“The recommendations of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry potentially impact on every service provided by our health and social care system and on every service user, carer and their families as well as on every member of staff employed to provide health and social care services,” he said.

Despite the political situation, work is proceeding against all of the recommendations. The appalling care failings at Muckamore Abbey Hospital have again highlighted the importance of candour in health and social services.

He added: “Over the next 12-18 months, there will be substantial progress against almost all of the recommendations.

“The vast majority which do not require ministerial or Executive approval will be implementable in that timeframe.”