Family of Aoife Johnston were not consulted on terms of new investigation

The late Aoife Johnston.

HEALTH Minister Stephen Donnelly has confirmed that he will meet with the family of Aoife Johnston after it emerged they did not have any input into the terms of the independent inquiry into the death of 16 year old at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).

Yesterday (Thursday January 4), lawyers for the Johnston family expressed grave concern that the terms of reference for the new review were decided upon without the family’s input.

Ms Johnston died after 12 hours in the emergency department (ED) at UHL on December 19, 2022.

Damien Tansey SC, a senior partner at Damien Tansey Solicitors, told RTÉ that there was no family or person more profoundly interested in this investigation than the Johnstons.

He also hit out that some media had access to a recent internal review of the case surrounding Ms Johnson’s death at University Hospital Limerick from December 2023, while the family did not.

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Speaking this week, Minister Donnelly said that he would “always want to include families in setting terms of reference for various reviews, that is normal practice”, adding that “it doesn’t always happen the way it should, but it is the way things should always work”.

The Minister said there has been a vast increase in resources at UHL, but acknowledged that more reform is required.

And he added that the coming investigation could result in clear accountability, which he said was a different and new approach being taken by HSE Chief Executive Bernard Gloster.

“If adverse findings are made, then there are processes that might follow from this investigation,” the Minister said.

Acknowledging there has been a vast increase in resources at University Hospital Limerick, he said that more reform is required.

Details of the HSE’s own Systems Analysis Report report were officially published by the HSE this week, with the report itself having already been leaked.

It contained shocking findings concerning inadequate staffing numbers in the UHL ED while 16-year-old Aoife Johnston was there, along with details of how several opportunities to treat her for sepsis were missed.

The report also revealed that doctors were too pressured with very ill patients to asses and treat the Shannon schoolgirl in a timely fashion, despite her condition being raised urgently by senior nursing staff.

The details of that report were published alongside the terms of reference for the new independent investigation by former chief justice Frank Clarke. The investigation has been scheduled to take up to eight weeks to complete.

Mr Tansey said the family will want time to fully consider the terms of reference for the new review and will have something to say about it, with a view to altering or enlarging the term, in order to cover areas that are of primary concern to the family – who are suing the HSE.

An inquest into the death of Ms Johnston is due to begin on April 21 in Limerick.

In a statement, the HSE said they did not want to “comment in detail on the systems analysis review … pending the completion of the independent investigation”.

However, it added that “when adverse incidents occur, the HSE does not await the outcome of all investigations before commencing improvement plans. This is the case also with UHL/UHLG (UL Hospitals Group.”