A public inquiry into a hospital bug outbreak in the North can provide a better understanding of how to cope with such infections in the future, its chair said today.
Dame Deirdre Hine stressed that the hearings into the year-long Clostridium difficile episode in the Northern Trust area in the North would not apportion blame, just establish the facts.
At the time of the outbreak between June 2007 and August 2008 around 60 to 70 deaths were identified as having C diff as an underlying cause or a contributory factor.
But many families believe the bug was to blame for more lost lives.
Relatives will recount their experiences to the inquiry panel during the anticipated 14 days of evidence at Antrim’s Civic Centre.
“Our process will be essentially fair, inquisitorial and not adversarial in nature,” Dame Deirdre said in her opening address.
“Our overall objective is to contribute to restoring and increasing the confidence of the communities served by the trust in the safety, effectiveness and sensitivity of the services provided, especially in the care of frail and vulnerable members of the community.
“We intend that our review of the number of deaths in which C difficile was either the underlying or contributory cause should provide publicly accessible information on the nature of these infections.
“The aim will be to increase understanding of the relative risk infections pose in hospital care and to challenge unnecessary or exaggerated apprehensions.
“Similarly, by listening to patients, relatives and staff affected by the outbreak and drawing on their experiences, we hope to contribute to an understanding of the impact of hospital-acquired infections and point to changes and improvements in which these can be lessened or ameliorated.”
Dame Deirdre offered the condolences of the inquiry to those whose family members or friends died during the period of the outbreak.
She said: “We are aware and are sorry that the inquiry itself may have reopened stressful and distressing memories for many of those directly affected, whether patients, relatives or staff.”
Independent medical experts and trust employees will also give evidence.
The hospitals involved during the outbreak were Antrim, Braid Valley, Mid Ulster, Moyle and Whiteabbey.