Medical Negligence
By Conal McGarrity
Latest News

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced two public inquiries

Health Minister Robin Swann announces two public inquiries regarding the treatment of patients by Dr Watt Neurology at the Belfast Trust and Dr Aidan O’Brien Urology at the Southern Health and Social Care Trust. Addressing the Assembly on Tuesday 24th November 2020, Mr Swann revealed there will be a public inquiry into the clinical practice of retired urologist Dr Aidan O’Brien. Towards the end of his speech, he also told MLAs that he has upgraded the Dr Watt independent neurology inquiry to a public inquiry.

Minister Swann has informed MLAs that to date 1,159 patients’ urology records have initially been reviewed and 271 patients or families have been contacted by the Southern Trust, work continues across the area.

Minister Swann has also expressed concerns regarding both recalls and believes a public inquiry is the best way to move forward “to ensure that the full extent of the concerns are identified and for the patients and families affected to see these and all relevant issues are pursued in a transparent and independent way.”

What does this mean?

Public inquiries are major investigations led by Government Ministers, in this case by Robin Swann Minister of Health. A Public Inquiry grants special powers to compel testimonies and introduce or release new forms of evidence.

What is the purpose of a Public Inquiry?

Preventing reoccurrence is deemed to be the primary purpose of a Public Inquiry and addresses four main questions:

  1. What happened;

  2. Why did it happen;

  3. Who is responsible;

  4. What can be done to prevent this in the future.

Most inquiries are now convened using the Inquiries Act 2005, which provides a uniform set of powers and rules for how an inquiry operates.

How long do Public Inquiries take?

Public inquiries have a reputation for their slow progression. In contrast to inquests, which are supposed to take less than a year and must make a formal report offering an explanation to the Chief Coroner if they take longer, inquiries have no set time frame.

The 69 inquiries launched between 1990 and 2017 in the UK have varied a lot in duration, although most take around two years to report back. The shortest inquiry was the Hammond inquiry into ministerial conduct relating to the Hinduja affair; this took only 45 days. The longest was the inquiry into Hyponatraemia-related deaths; this took 13 years and three months to complete.

Inquires must review thousands of documents and take witness testimony. Even under ideal circumstances they take time due to the sheer volume of evidence they need to consider.

How we can help

If you or your family have been affected by any of the patient recalls, please do not hesitate to contact our medical negligence team at PA Duffy & Company Solicitors. We can assist clients with obtaining medical history, instructing independent medical experts to assess whether duty of care was breached. We will also be able to fully explain and advise the patient and their family their options for pursuing legal action against the Trusts.

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