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Doctor accused of ‘cover up’ over schoolgirl’s death ‘will not give evidence’

Dr Heather Steen is accused of acting dishonestly in attempting to conceal the true circumstances of Claire Roberts’ death.

03 October 2022

A doctor accused of a “cover up” over the death of a nine-year-old patient will not give evidence.

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 that a viral infection had spread from her stomach to her brain and 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.

Jennifer Roberts holds a photo of her daughter Claire while speaking to media outside Belfast Coroner’s Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Jennifer Roberts holds a photo of her daughter Claire while speaking to media outside Belfast Coroner’s Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland (PA)

A Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) is considering the case against Dr Steen and has already rejected two applications from her on health grounds for voluntary erasure from the medical register.

On Monday, her barrister Kevin McCartney said Dr Steen will not be answering in person the allegations against her.

He said: “Dr Steen will not be giving evidence but will rely on the contents of witness statements that the tribunal has.”

The panel has previously heard 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 that 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 says 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 the first inquest into Claire’s death 2006.

Dr Steen denies the allegations.

The hearing, held remotely, continues.

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