By Kim Pilling (PA)
A doctor accused of a “cover-up” over the death of a nine-year-old patient has made a renewed application to voluntary remove herself from the medical register.
Dr Heather Steen is said by the General Medical Council (GMC) to have acted dishonestly in attempting to conceal the true circumstances of the death of Claire Roberts at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in October 1996.
Claire’s parents, Alan and Jennifer Roberts, were told at the time a viral infection had spread from her stomach to her brain and that medics had done everything possible to save her.
However, 22 years later, a public inquiry concluded she died due to “negligent care” from an overdose of fluids and medication.
In March, a similar application from Dr Steen on health grounds was rejected by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) panel which meant the case against the consultant paediatrician could go ahead.
As proceedings reached the halfway stage Dr Steen was expected to give evidence but instead on Monday her legal team submitted a second bid for voluntary erasure.
Tom Forster, for the GMC, said: “This is a renewed application. As I understand it, it’s put on the basis there has been a deterioration in Dr Steen’s health.
“The GMC’s report has been served in response. In short the GMC will be resisting this application.”
The tribunal, sitting remotely, will hear evidence in private on the issue of Dr Steen’s health from expert doctors, with a decision likely to be given next week.
Dr Steen was not present at the hearing and her legal representative Kevin McCartney said he was content for the application to proceed in her absence.
The tribunal has previously heard that Mr Roberts contacted the hospital in October 2004, the day after he watched a television documentary, UTV’s When Hospitals Kill, which focused on hyponatraemia – a condition which occurs when there is a shortage of sodium in the bloodstream.
The programme featured the deaths of three children and the build-up of fluid in their brains.
A subsequent public inquiry concluded in 2018 that Claire’s death was the result of “negligent care” from an overdose of fluids and medication.
A fresh inquest in 2019 ruled her death was “caused by the treatment she received in hospital”.
The GMC say Dr Steen withheld information in the immediate aftermath of Claire’s death and also at a meeting with Mr and Mrs Roberts in 2004 and at Claire’s first inquest in 2006.
Dr Steen denies the allegations.
Claire Roberts (9) died in 1996 at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast (Picture by Mal McCann)