Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has urged the Scottish Government to step in after he claimed that two more children have died after contracting infections at a Glasgow hospital.
The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) has been at the centre of controversy in recent years, with a number of people dying after contracting infections linked to the water and atmosphere and sparking a public inquiry being established to – in part – investigate the conditions at the hospital.
Last week, the widow of Scottish Government employee Andrew Slorance, who was being treated in the hospital last year, linked his death to aspergillus, an infection linked to a type of mould.
According to Mr Sarwar, a clinician has come forward, telling him that another such infection was found at around the same time period as Mr Slorance’s in a child cancer patient who later died.
A separate medic, the Labour leader claimed, has also told him of another infection just two months ago in the paediatric hospital where the patient later died – four years on from the death of 10-year-old Milly Main, who died after contracting a waterborne infection.
In quotes sent to the media by the Labour leader, the clinician, who warned of the infection at around the same time as Mr Slorance, said: “A child cancer patient died after contracting the infection in November 2020.
“It begs the question – if there was a case as far back as November 4 what did the health board do to investigate it? Did they look for an environmental source and could future infections have been prevented?
“In cases like this, where two patients have died of aspergillus in short order, a HIIAT (Healthcare Infection Incident Assessment Tool) Red report should have been filed and therefore the Health Secretary informed.
“Why was this then not acted on? We could have lost the chance to prevent subsequent infections and deaths.”
The Labour leader refused to confirm the identity of the clinicians, whom he claims fear “retribution”.
The second staff member said there was a “culture of bullying and intimidation”, adding: “The result is inaction with potentially fatal consequences.
“Within the last few months there has been at least one death in the paediatric hospital where a child was infected by a bacteria linked to water and the environment.
“We can’t hide behind a public inquiry. We need urgent action now so we can make it safe and provide the necessary reassurances about the risk from environment and water supply.”
Mr Sarwar urged the First Minister to use emergency powers to allow ministers to take control of the hospital and fire the heads of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC).
“The health board has failed, the Scottish Government oversight board has failed and frankly the First Minister continues to fail,” he said at First Minister’s Questions.
“Staff are being bullied and intimidated now. I have been raising this in this chamber for years and I’ve heard the same answers and the same excuses.
“Infections are happening now, patients are dying now.”
He added: “Sack the leadership of the health board today, sack the oversight board today and use your emergency powers to take control of this hospital.
“First Minister, how many more families will have to be devastated before you do the right thing?”
In response, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Sacking a health board does not change overnight the practice in a hospital, that is why the actual work has to be done.
“When concerns are raised about the cause of someone’s death, then that has to be properly investigated so that the action that is then taken as a result of that is the right action.”
She added: “These are serious matters – they are serious matters all of us should take seriously but we do not do justice to the families concerned if we simply call for action that is not based on proper investigation, proper scrutiny and proper consideration.
“That is the duty of government and that is the duty we will continue to take seriously.”
NHSGGC said: “It’s a painful tragedy for any family to lose their child and we would like to share our deepest condolences with both families.
“We welcome open discussions with anyone who may have questions around care provided and would like to take this opportunity to appeal to the families to speak with us directly, when they feel able to do so.”
Infection control at the QEUH is “rigorous”, the statement continued, with patient care there and at the Royal Hospital for Children “of a high standard” and patient safety the highest priority.
The health board said staff are supported to voice concerns and protected by the whistleblowing policy, adding: “All NHSGGC staff are fully committed to being completely open and transparent in all that we do and for this to be repeatedly called into question does not represent a true reflection of our organisation.”