The inquiry was sparked when concerns were raised regarding the work of a former consultant urologist Mr Aidan O’Brien.
Patient records were recalled last year and, in November, Health Minister Robin Swann announced a public inquiry would take place.
The inquiry will not be looking directly at the clinical practice of Mr O’Brien which is currently under investigation by the General Medical Council.
Rather it will focus on the Trust’s handling of complaints and clinical aspects of cases deemed Serious Adverse Incidents.
The chair of the Inquiry will be Christine Smith QC, the first woman to chair a public inquiry in NI. Expert Dr Sonia Swart has been appointed as an Inquiry Panel Member and Damian Hanbury as an Inquiry Assessor.
The Inquiry, which will be independent and not accountable to any public body will review the Southern Trust’s handling of relevant complaints or concerns prior to May 2020 and determine whether there were any related concerns which should have alerted the Southern Trust to instigate an earlier and more thorough investigation.
It will also evaluate the corporate and clinical governance within the Trust in relation to the circumstances which led to the Trust conducting a ‘lookback review’ of patients seen by Mr O’Brien (for the period from January 2019 until May 2020). This includes the communication and escalation of the reporting of issues related to potential concerns about patient care and safety within and between the Trust, the Health and Social Care Board, Public Health Agency and the Department. It also includes any other areas which directly bear on patient care and safety and an assessment of the role of the Board of the Trust.
It will also examine the clinical aspect of the cases identified as a Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) and any further cases the Inquiry considers appropriate, to provide a comprehensive report on the governance of patient care and safety within the Trust’s urology specialty.
The inquiry will give those patients affected, and/or their immediate families, an opportunity to report their experiences to the Inquiry.
It will also review the implementation of the Department of Health’s “Maintaining High Professional Standards Policy” by the Trust in relation to the investigation related to Mr O’Brien. The Inquiry is asked to determine whether the application of this Policy by the Trust was effective and to make recommendations, if required, to strengthen the Policy.
It will also aim to identify any learning points and make appropriate recommendations as to whether the framework for clinical and social care governance and its application are fit for purpose.
The inquiry is to examine and report on any other matters which the Chairman considers arise in connection with the Inquiry’s investigations.
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The urology patients and families affected remain in my thoughts as the Inquiry embarks on its statutory responsibilities and I would like to again acknowledge the upset, distress and anxiety these matters have caused. Patients and families affected and who have concerns are encouraged to avail of the support which the Southern Trust has made available, including the Family Liaison Service and related support services.
“I am confident the establishment of the independent Urology Services Inquiry will enable a full and transparent investigation of the circumstances leading to the Urology lookback review, and ensure lessons are learned in order to improve our healthcare systems and restore public confidence in our healthcare services.”
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