Northern Ireland

'Short and sharp' inquiry into dental recalls

An independent inquiry is to be held into the events that led to 135 patients being recalled to the School of Dentistry at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

The patients were recalled after a review of the work of oral medicine specialist - Professor Philip Lamey.

The most urgent recalled cases, some involving cancer, have been dealt with.

Professor Lamey is no longer seeing patients and is being investigated by the General Dental Council.

Concerns had been raised about the late diagnosis of cancer found in some patients. Four have since died. The Belfast Trust will not confirm whether a late cancer diagnosis may have contributed to their deaths.

Announcing what he called a "rigorous" inquiry, Health Minister Michael McGimpsey told the Northern Ireland Assembly that he shared the shock and concern the public felt.

He said there were serious concerns about 22 people. He said 15 had been identified as cancer patients who may have had some delay in their diagnosis.

Four had since died, three from oral cancer, one from other conditions, he said.

Mr McGimpsey told the Assembly that the cases of the vast majority of 3,000 patients at the hospital on the Royal Victoria site had been appropriately managed.

The health minister said he was aware that the recalls of patients would cause "considerable public anxiety" and he, himself, had felt "deeply disturbed".

"I share the shock and concern the public will rightly feel. I am very unhappy about distress of patients and the handling of this matter," he said.

Prof Philip Lamey is no longer seeing patients at the Royal School of Dentistry
Prof Philip Lamey is no longer seeing patients at the Royal School of Dentistry

"I believe there has been a breakdown of communication in the health and social care service and in my department. I therefore will be initiating an urgent independent inquiry into these matters.

"I expect this inquiry will be rigorous and independent. It will examine the quality of care to patients, the circumstances surrounding this issue and the subsequent handling. I will advise members of further details about this inquiry as soon as possible."

Mr McGimpsey said the communication of information would be a key focus of an upcoming review. It will include an investigation of all actions taken by the Department of Health, the Belfast Trust and the Board.

The inquiry will examine the quality of care given to patients, the circumstances surrounding the issue and the subsequent handling of it.

Prof Lamey appeared before a hearing of the General Dental Council in London on 9 July last year.

One of the patients recalled by the trust has told the BBC how the situation was affecting him.

"This condition hasn't gone away, it's very upsetting not only for me but for my family," he said.

The trust is providing a helpline, which received between 40 and 50 calls at the weekend. The telephone number is 028 9063 6330.

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