fbpx

Bereaved family members call for accountability for NI Covid response

Families of people who died of Covid-19 have called for accountability for decisions made in Northern Ireland in response to the pandemic.

Families of people who died of Covid-19 have called for accountability for decisions made in Northern Ireland in response to the pandemic.

On Thursday, former health minister Robin Swann and Dr Denis McMahon, permanent secretary of the Executive Office, gave evidence to the first module of the inquiry on Northern Ireland’s preparedness for the pandemic.

Brenda Doherty is a leading campaigner in the Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group. Her mother, Ruth, died on March 24 2020 after contracting Covid in hospital.

The last time she saw her mother, Ms Doherty thought she would be discharged from hospital the following day, but she would later die in hospital, alone.

Brenda Doherty, campaigner for the Northern Ireland COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group. (Claudia Savage/PA)
Brenda Doherty, campaigner for the Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group (Claudia Savage/PA)

“My mummy was such a lively wee woman who deserves so much more. She was the heart of our family. She was a character, my mummy said that as it was,” Ms Doherty said.

“And I know that she would be wanting me to be what I’m doing now and trying to make sure that lessons are learned so that no other families have to suffer like we have.”

Dr McMahon told the inquiry that all of the attention prior to the pandemic was focused on getting Northern Ireland ready for the potential fallout from a no-deal Brexit.

Ms Doherty said she was shocked at how poorly prepared the Northern Ireland health service was for the pandemic.

“I believe that my mum and everybody else who passed away to Covid and all those people who didn’t get their necessary treatments, because of Covid, and the management or mismanagement of the pandemic have been left really, really vulnerable,” she said

She added: “There are so many things that should have happened.

“There is too many layers here in Northern Ireland, to the like of even our trusts or health service. There’s too many hierarchy and not enough feet on the ground, and I think that’s why we’re in such the state we are.

“I knew the health service was in dire straits, but I think the pandemic has just reinforced how bad it is and the more that I get involved in the inquiry, the more that it actually shocks me that as just a general person in the public, I had no idea how stretched we were and how out of it we were.

“Compared to the UK plans, Northern Ireland really was very, very, – we were 18 months behind in our planning for a pandemic which could have been seen.”

Ms Doherty also stated that she would like to see some party or persons held accountable for mistakes that were made in the pandemic.

“Because the one big thing for me in Northern Ireland is, who’s accountable when something goes wrong? Because I can’t see who you hold to account, and I’m afraid that’s a get out clause in my opinion,” she said.

Several members of the group highlighted that in speaking to other people who had lost loved ones to Covid, there was a huge disparity in experience causing them to question why rules and guidelines in Northern Ireland were being implemented inconsistently.

Eddie Hughes, also a member of the Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, lost his wife of nearly 50 years, Patricia, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Hughes had dementia when she contracted Covid-19 in a care home.

Mr Hughes said he, like other bereaved family members, is still seeking answers on what basis decisions surrounding the pandemic response in Northern Ireland were made.

“She (Ms Hughes) didn’t really know where she was and she was a quiet woman, but she was terrified at being at home on her own. And as I say when Covid came on we weren’t allowed to see her,” he said.

“I want to know who decided that relatives couldn’t go and see their loved ones because my wife would have been terrified. But as I say they denied us the opportunity to be with them and said ‘you have to do this and you have to do that.’

“But the nursing homes didn’t do that, and they said they were acting under guidance, but what guidance, where did the guidance come from?”

Eddie Hughes, a member of the Northern Ireland COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, who lost his wife Patricia during the pandemic. (Claudia Savage/PA)
Eddie Hughes, a member of the Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, who lost his wife Patricia during the pandemic (Claudia Savage/PA)

Martina Ferguson, also a campaigner, lost her mother who was in a care home during the pandemic.

Ms Ferguson said that legislative changes needed to be made in Northern Ireland to learn the lessons of the pandemic.

“I really think for this public inquiry, we need to see a change in the legislation,” she said.

“No-one, no resident or patient should ever be left alone without their family. Family is so resourceful, they are so important to residents and patients.

“So we should never be in a situation like that going forward again, we need to learn real lessons here.”

She added: “I think when we look at the lived experiences of our families, of our bereaved families, when you read some of their stories, they’re absolutely horrific, and there are as many of those deaths that could have been totally avoidable.”

The inquiry, announced by then-prime minister Boris Johnson in 2021, is examining the UK’s handling of the pandemic and is hearing from senior politicians, health officials and experts.

More from Perspective

Get a free copy of our print edition

News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

Your email address will not be published. The views expressed in the comments below are not those of Perspective. We encourage healthy debate, but racist, misogynistic, homophobic and other types of hateful comments will not be published.