Why was the Urology Services Inquiry established?

A decision was taken by the Minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA, to establish a statutory public inquiry following the lookback review of urology patients (January 2019 until May 2020) initiated by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust.

These concerns were related to Mr Aidan O’Brien, Consultant Urologist employed within the Southern Trust.

Who set up the Urology Services Inquiry?

On 24 November 2020 the Department of Health (DoH) Minister, Robin Swann, announced his intention to establish a statutory public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the concerns raised about the clinical practice of a former hospital urology consultant in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust.

Who is chairing the Urology Service Inquiry?

The Urology Services Inquiry is chaired by Ms Christine Smith KC.

Who appointed the Urology Service Inquiry’s Chair?

The appointment was made by the Minister for Health.

Who sits on the Urology Services Inquiry’s Panel?

The Inquiry Panel consists of Ms Christine Smith KC and Dr Sonia Swart. Mr Damian Hanbury, Consultant Urologist, has been appointed as assessor to assist the inquiry panel.

Who appointed the Urology Services Inquiry’s Panel member?

The Panel Member was appointed by the Minister for Health in consultation with the Chair of the Inquiry.

Who appointed the Urology Services Inquiry’s Assessor?

The Assessor was appointed by the Minister for Health in consultation with the Chair of the Inquiry.

Who are the key staff?

Aside from the Chair of the Inquiry, the Panel member and the Assessor, the key staff are:

  • Martin Wolfe KC, Senior Counsel to the Inquiry;
  • Laura McMahon BL, Junior Counsel to the Inquiry;
  • Anne Donnelly, Inquiry Solicitor; and
  • Alasdair MacInnes, Inquiry Secretary.

What legislation underpins the Urology Services Inquiry?

The Urology Services Inquiry has been set up under the Inquiries Act 2005 (referred to here as ‘the 2005 Act’). While that is a United Kingdom wide piece of legislation, it makes specific provision for public inquiries to be set up by Ministers of the devolved institutions, such as Northern Ireland Ministers.

Section 41 of the 2005 Act provides power for statutory rules to be made to assist the operation of public inquiries. While such rules have been made in other jurisdictions in the United Kingdom, specific Northern Ireland rules have not yet been made under the 2005 Act. However, this will not be an impediment to the Urology Services Inquiry because section 17 of the 2005 Act gives the Chair the power to determine the procedure and conduct of the Urology Services Inquiry.

What is the Urology Services Inquiry investigating?

The remit of the Urology Services Inquiry is set out in its Terms of Reference.

What are the Urology Services Inquiry’s Terms of Reference?

All public inquiries have Terms of Reference. The Terms of Reference set the parameters of what the inquiry must investigate.

A public inquiry has to carry out the tasks required by its Terms of Reference. It cannot go outside them, or beyond them. That being said, it is up to every public inquiry to interpret its own Terms of Reference, and then to explain to the public what the Inquiry considers is required of it.

Is the Urology Services Inquiry independent of Government departments?

Yes. The Inquiry is completely independent of Government departments.

Will the Inquiry consider the clinical practice of Mr Aidan O’Brien?

The clinical practice of Mr O’Brien is being investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC) and this Inquiry will not encroach on the remit of the GMC in this regard. We will work within the published Terms of Reference for our work.

Will the Urology Services Inquiry find anyone guilty?

The Urology Services Inquiry, like all public inquiries, is not a trial of any particular body or individual. Section 2 of the 2005 Act specifically says that: “An inquiry panel is not to rule on, and has no power to determine, any person's civil or criminal liability.”

The Urology Services Inquiry will establish the facts around what has been tasked to investigate. It will do so in an inquisitorial way through obtaining documents, witness statements, and holding oral hearings. The oral hearings will be open to the public. Where the Inquiry feels it should criticise individuals or organisations, because of things they did or did not do, it will do so in its report.

Is the Inquiry responsible for the lookback exercise of urology patients?

The USI is not responsible for the lookback review or any recall of urology patients, which is the responsibility of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, overseen by the Urology Assurance Group and the Health and Social Care Board. The Urology Recall Patient Helpline number is 0800 414 8520, and is available between 10am and 3pm Monday to Friday.

What is the timeframe for completion of the Urology Services Inquiry?

Public inquiries have a duty to carry out their work fairly and thoroughly, and to produce a reliable evidence-based report of their findings. Every public inquiry has a series of stages that must be gone through. They include:

  • setting up the inquiry;
  • gathering the relevant evidence;
  • considering it;
  • providing material to those who need to be asked questions about it;
  • questioning the relevant individuals about the evidence gathered;
  • giving relevant individuals an opportunity to explain relevant events and an appropriate opportunity to make representations where they may be subject to criticism;
  • reflecting on all the evidence gathered, including evidence provided at oral hearings;
  • drafting a report; and finally
  • publishing its report.

It will be obvious that a public inquiry therefore takes time. It is simply not possible to give a precise timescale as to how long it will take.