Who is Dr Heather Steen? Doctor who tried to cover up the death of a nine-year-old girl after overdosing her is struck off

A doctor, Dr. Heather Steen who attempted to conceal the cause of death of a nine-year-old patient has been barred after a public inquiry determined she died as a result of ‘negligent care.’

The public inquiry into hyponatremia concluded in 2018 that Claire Roberts’ death in October 1996 was caused by an overdose of fluids and medication.

In 2019, a new inquest determined that Claire’s death was ’caused by the treatment she received in hospital,’ where she was under the care of Dr Heather Steen.

Who is Dr Heather Steen? Doctor who tried to cover up the death of a nine-year-old girl after overdosing her is struck off

Claire Roberts’ parents were informed at the time that a viral infection had spread from her stomach to her brain and that doctors had done everything possible to save her.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra, Claire Roberts’ mother Jennifer said she will ‘never forgive’ Dr Steen, who put their family through 26 years of ‘mental torment’.

‘I’m angry at Dr Steen for putting us through 26 years of mental torment,’ Mrs Roberts said.

‘Twenty-six years as a mother to fight for truth and accountability.

‘The true circumstances of Claire’s death has been hidden and concealed from us as a family. Claire’s brothers Gareth and Stuart were robbed of a sister, a sister who brought so much joy, love and happiness to our family home.’

Claire’s father Alan said Dr Steen’s silence ‘speaks volumes about her guilt’.

In October 2004, a UTV documentary, When Hospitals Kill, raised concerns about the treatment of a number of children who died from hyponatraemia, or a lack of sodium in the bloodstream.

Following the screening, a public inquiry was announced as Alan and Jennifer Roberts sought answers about their daughter’s care from the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

After determining that Dr Heather Steen’s fitness to practice was impaired, a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service panel decided on Friday that erasure was the appropriate sanction.

The tribunal accepted that Dr Steen, now retired, was ‘not attempting to conceal details of, or failings in, Patient A’s care in 1996/97, when she believed there was a viral cause of death’.

However, she persisted with her focus on a viral cause once fluid and electrolyte mismanagement became a ‘live issue’ from 2004 and ‘continued to emphasise this aspect whilst seeking to downplay, qualify and minimise or ignore findings to the contrary’.

Who is Dr Heather Steen? Doctor who tried to cover up the death of a nine-year-old girl after overdosing her is struck off

Tribunal chair Sean Ell said this ‘misrepresentation’ continued through the consultant paediatrician’s involvement with Claire’s parents, at a coroner’s inquest – ordered after the documentary screening – and the public inquiry itself.

Mr Ell said: ‘Dr Steen had many opportunities to reconsider and be open and transparent, but chose to maintain her dishonesty over the course of events after 2004.

‘Whilst the failings may not have changed the tragic outcome of Patient A’s death, her parents were seeking answers to what happened and were entitled to full transparency.’

He later added: ‘The tribunal determined that public confidence would be undermined if, knowing all of the circumstances of this case, a finding of impairment was not made.

‘Fellow practitioners would consider Dr Steen’s behaviour in seeking to cover up the cause of Patient A’s death to be deplorable.

‘Honesty and integrity are critical to public trust in the medical profession, and the tribunal determined that a finding of current impairment was required to maintain public trust in the profession and to uphold proper standards of conduct and behavior in the profession.’

The tribunal also determined that Dr. Steen’s failure to report the sudden and unexpected death of a child in hospital to the coroner “fell significantly below the standard expected.”

It determined that her improper completion of Claire’s death certificate was also serious misconduct.

Dr. Steen denied the allegations but provided no evidence.

The tribunal noted that during the public inquiry, Dr. Steen admitted to making mistakes in Claire’s care and apologized to her family.

It also mentioned the ‘numerous positive testimonials provided on Dr Steen’s behalf that spoke both to her skills as a clinician and the manner in which she dealt with patients and parents, in often difficult circumstances.’