Published Wednesday, 04 April 2012
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Baby deaths ‘avoidable’
Interview: Sue Ramsey
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Four newborns died during outbreak of the illness, the first at Altnagelvin in December and three more in the Royal Victoria Hospital in January.
An investigation into the causes showed that early warning signs were missed - now Mr Poots has revealed that lives could have been saved had action been taken sooner.
He said: "I feel that had action been taken at an earlier point in terms of providing sterile water, the identification that this was an outbreak and the appropriate alerts, we could have avoided babies getting Pseudomonas in the first instance and that may have avoided some of the deaths."
It is a huge impact in that this might have been avoidable - one of the parents were so grateful to have even had their baby for a few days.
Health Minister Edwin Poots
The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority, which was called in to report the Pseudomonas crisis, delivered its interim findings to the health committee at Stormont on Wednesday.
It said the Royal Jubilee Maternity Unit must be replaced due to its unsuitability to ensure infection prevention, as it doesn't have the right isolation facilities or enough space for staff to clean properly.
The team led by Professor Pat Troop made 15 recommendations in total.
It called for only sterile water to be used to wash babies in intensive care, for tap water not to be used to defrost frozen breast milk and for wider spaces between intensive care cots.
Professor Troop criticised the lack of communication between health officials at the time of the outbreak, saying the Belfast Trust should have declared an outbreak sooner.
She said: "They did some things but I think there were some things they did not do.
"In particular they did not go back to look for the source because it could have been a common source and they did not go and test the water or do environmental swabs and we think that is where perhaps they could have done more."
UTV contacted the Belfast Trust on Wednesday night but no-one was available for comment. Officials have stressed that lessons have been learnt and recommendations implemented.
Earlier the Health Minister held a two hour meeting with bereaved parents, during which he broke the news to them that this outbreak could have been dealt with much quicker.
He described it as the worst of his life.
"I told them that it may have been avoidable, that these babies might have avoided getting Pseudomonas and that may well have avoided those babies dying," Mr Poots said.
"That is a very difficult thing to do.
"I would have to say too that the parents themselves were so gracious not to seek recrimination in any way, shape or form and were looking assurances from me that every step is taken to avoid more parents going through similar circumstances. Their bravery was really quite moving."
Health Committee chairperson Sue Ramsey told UTV that lessons must be learnt to make sure a case like this never happens again.
She said: "We had the presentation from Professor Troop and her team today, she says that if the Belfast Trust had moved sooner on this, then there is a possibility that children's live could have been saved.
"I think we need to deal with this. We need to deal with the fact that we are dealing with babies here, we are dealing with families, we are dealing with the emotion around all of this and sadly the death of a number of children.
"What we need to do is to get Professor Troop's second report and we need to make sure that lessons are learnt, that we implement the recommendations and ensure that this does not happen again."
The final report will be presented by the review team to the Health Minister next month and will include a particular emphasis on the experiences of the families.