Health chiefs at Northern Ireland's Western Trust are facing growing demands to explain why the family of a teenage girl who died with swine flu was not told she had the virus until two days after her funeral.
Londonderry teenager Orla O’Kane passed away last Sunday after being admitted to Altnagelvin Hospital with a severe chest infection.
The 14-year-old, who was a pupil at Foyle View Special School, only had the illness for a short time and was rushed to hospital for treatment after her condition deteriorated rapidly.
Paramedics and doctors worked frantically to try and save the teenager but she died on Sunday October 11.
Her funeral was held on Wednesday, however, her family were only told she had swine flu on Friday — five days after she lost her battle for life.
The Western Health and Social Care Trust last night issued a statement saying that “clearly these delays caused further distress for the family and that is very regrettable”.
SDLP Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey — who is a close friend of the O’Kane family — criticised the Trust over the length of time it took health chiefs to notify the O’Kane family.
Since Orla’s death, another member of her family has developed swine flu.
The O’Kanes were said to be distressed by the possibility that dozens of other family and friends as well as classmates of Orla’s who were present at her funeral could be at risk of contracting the virus.
The Belfast Telegraph has also learned that a classmate of Orla’s was admitted to hospital with the virus two days before her death.
It is understood the young pupil was taken to hospital in a serious condition and is believed to be still receiving treatment.
A spokeswoman from the Western Health Trust said it was unable to comment on whether a patient had been admitted to Altnagelvin hospital with swine flu on October 9 because of patient-client confidentiality.
Mr Ramsey said he would be contacting Health Minister Michael McGimspey this week in relation to what happened.
He met with representatives from the Trust on Saturday night in a bid to uncover what caused the delay — as well as to express his concerns about its public disclosure policy.
“The family are really quite distressed at the moment,” he said last night. “Orla was their youngest child. They had just moved into a new home which had been specially adapted. It was devastating for them to lose her.
“Now they have the added stress of learning she had swine flu.
“Clearly, the family would have handled the wake and funeral arrangements very differently if the cause of death had been confirmed to them in good time. Concern for friends and neighbours has now added to their deep distress at the loss of a very special young girl.
“Given the nature of swine flu, everyone appreciates the need for caution in diagnosis.
“But it is equally important to communicate quickly and efficiently with everyone who can play a part in reducing exposure to the virus, and I have to say that was not done in this case.
“I will be raising this issue with the Minister of Health, but like everyone else involved I will seek to do so in a way which will not add further to this family’s distress and respects their need for privacy.
“I have been in regular contact with the family over the last few days and they want to acknowledge and thank the emergency services and medical team which tended to their daughter.”
A spokeswoman from the Western Health Trust confirmed it had met Mr Ramsey on Saturday and as a result were now conducting a review into why the O’Kane family were not told their daughter had contracted swine flu.
“The Trust is reviewing the issues that have been raised to fully understand how delays occurred confirming that swine flu was present, and will agree measures to prevent similar circumstances in the future,” she said.
“Clearly these delays caused further distress for the family and that is very regrettable.
“In terms of risk to other people, including anyone who has been in contact with this child, the existing advice still applies — anyone who thinks that they may have symptoms of swine flu should immediately contact their GP or out-of-hours service for advice and assessment.”
Mr McGimpsey said he was “saddened to hear of this further death and my thoughts are with the family at this very sad time for them”.
Meanwhile Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “For parents of children who may have been in contact with this child, I would like to assure them that if their child has no symptoms of swine flu and is otherwise healthy there is no need for antiviral treatment.
“If you think you have swine flu stay at home, please do not visit your GP practice, pharmacy or A&E in person.
“People with underlying health conditions who are at higher risk of complications if they develop influenza should call their GP for advice and assessment for antivirals.
“This includes people with long-term conditions such as diabetes or chronic lung disease.
“In addition, pregnant women who develop flu-like symptoms should phone their GP promptly.
“Likewise, parents of children under five years should call their doctor if their child develops flu-like symptoms,” Dr McBride added.
Orla is the second special needs pupil to die with the virus in Northern Ireland. Her death came just days after 12-year-old Aaron McBride died after contracting swine flu. He was a pupil of Tor Bank Special School in Dundonald.