Northern Ireland’s chief scientific adviser has lost a legal bid to block an investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC) into allegations he did not tell the family of a nine-year-old girl, who died in hospital in 1996, about “failings” in her treatment.
Claire Roberts died from hyponatraemia, which is linked to a shortage of sodium in the blood, in Belfast’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children in 1996.
Prof Young was asked to review the case in 2004 and provide an assessment on whether hyponatraemia contributed to Claire’s death. He was not involved in her treatment, or that of four other children who died of the condition in Northern Ireland.
A public inquiry into their deaths later found that Prof Young did not inform Claire’s parents about failings in her care and gave “misleading” evidence to the original inquest into her death.
The inquiry’s report, published in 2018, said that Prof Young had “shifted from his initial independent role … to one of protecting the hospital and its doctors”. A new inquest concluded that the child’s death had been “caused by the treatment that she received in hospital”.
Prof Young referred himself to the GMC shortly after the inquiry’s report was published. In 2020 the body decided its original decision not to prosecute was “materially flawed” and it was “in the public interest” for the allegations against Prof Young to proceed to an investigation.
The Irish Times reported that Mr Justice Holgate found that an earlier decision by the GMC not to investigate the claims was “wholly unsustainable”, and the regulatory body had been right to conclude that there were “material flaws” in the original decision.
Speaking after the outcome of the hearing, a spokeswoman for the GMC said the body was “pleased the court has decided that our decision to investigate in this case was lawful and will now continue.”
In his ruling Mr Justice Holgate said the original decision-maker had failed “to appreciate key elements of the inquiry’s findings going both to the seriousness of the allegations and the public interest issues involved.”
The judge said the GMC explained in its second decision that the allegations against Prof Young were “plainly very serious and involve, at their highest, ‘an allegation of deliberately misleading the family of a deceased child and a coroner in relation to cause of death’”.