Published by BBC NEWS - 21st March 2022

Claire Roberts

Image source, Roberts family

A paediatrician who was at the centre of one of Northern Ireland’s longest running public inquiries will appear before a professional misconduct panel.

Dr Heather Steen is accused of several failings following the death of Claire Roberts at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in October 1996.

The nine-year-old’s death was examined by the hyponatraemia inquiry, which lasted 14 years.

It examined the role of several doctors.

Among his findings, the inquiry’s chairman Mr Justice O’Hara said there had been a “cover-up” to “avoid scrutiny.”

Dr Steen’s fitness to practise hearing is scheduled to last about five weeks.

In December 2012, Dr Steen told the public inquiry she denied claims of a cover-up into Claire Roberts’ death.

Allegations

Monday’s tribunal will inquire into allegations that, between 23 October 1996 and 4 May 2006, Dr Steen “knowingly and dishonestly carried out several actions to conceal the true circumstances” of the child’s death.

Also that the doctor provided inappropriate, incomplete and inaccurate information to the child’s parents and GP regarding the treatment, diagnosis, clinical management and cause of her death.

The tribunal website adds: “It is also alleged that Dr Steen inappropriately recommended a brain-only post-mortem for Patient A (Claire Roberts) when a full post-mortem was necessary.

“In addition, it is alleged that Dr Steen failed to refer Patient A’s death to the coroner, inappropriately completed the medical certificate of cause of death and inaccurately completed the autopsy request form for Patient A.

“Furthermore, it is alleged that during a review of Patient A’s notes, Dr Steen failed to consult with the necessary colleagues and medical teams and provided a statement and gave evidence to the coroner’s inquest into Patient A’s death which omitted key information.”

‘Public interest’

Two days before Claire’s death, she had become ill with symptoms including vomiting and drowsiness – it was believed she was suffering from a stomach bug.

After she was referred by her GP, hospital doctors prescribed intravenous fluids. However, Claire was given a fatal overdose of fluids and medication.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) is investigating a number of doctors involved in all the cases.

Previously the General Medical Council (GMC) said it was in the public interest to waive the five-year rule.

The rule normally means a complaint against a doctor has to be made within five years of any incident.

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