The revelation that the family of a child thought to have died from infected hospital water may not know their cause of death is part of the “biggest scandal of the devolution era”, Anas Sarwar has said.
The Scottish Labour leader pressed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about a failure by the Glasgow health board to contact the family affected by water-borne infections at the city’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.
More than 30 sick children were found to have infections linked to the water supply, including two children whose deaths are believed to be related to the problem, following warnings from whistleblowers at the hospital.
Mr Sarwar said it is “unforgivable” that the family of Milly Main – a 10-year-old girl who was in remission from leukaemia but died after contracting an infection – had learned of the probable cause of death in a newspaper.
Despite attempts by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to contact affected families since the scandal came to light in 2019, Mr Sarwar warned the relatives of the other child who died have “almost certainly” not been found.
Ms Sturgeon said it is “deeply regrettable” the family have not been contacted, despite “serious attempts” to locate them.
She said an independent review had looked at 118 cases of serious bacterial infection in 84 children linked to the hospital, and all but one family had been contacted.
Speaking during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Thursday, Mr Sarwar said: “Two children died in Scotland’s flagship hospital due to a water-borne infection.
“One family had to find out by fighting the health board, and the other family may not even know.
“This is the biggest scandal of the devolution era.”
The Glasgow MSP, who raised the whistleblowers’ concerns at Holyrood in 2019, argued the health board’s failure to tell the family when concerns were first raised was unlawful.
He continued: “It’s one thing breaking the law when it comes to treatment waiting times, it’s another thing breaking the law when it comes to telling a family the truth about how their child died.
“This scandal involved denials, bullying of clinicians, cover-ups and parents of sick children being blamed for their illnesses.
“Clinicians have been raising the alarm for years.
“The result of inaction is tens of children getting infections and, tragically, two children dying.
“But inexplicably there are still families fighting for truth and justice, this case proves that the response from the First Minister has not been good enough.”
In response, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m not disputing – because nobody could or should – that this is an incredibly serious matter.
“What I am disputing is that the Government is not taking this seriously and that the Government is not determined – through, ultimately, the full independent public inquiry – to get to the bottom of everything that happened, from the opening of the hospital right through to now to make sure that families have the answers to the questions that they need.”
Challenged by Mr Sarwar to “take personal responsibility that this family will be found and told the truth about what happened to their child”, Ms Sturgeon said: “I will certainly be ensuring that the health board is doing everything that is reasonably possible to locate this family.”