Top level talks take place over pigeon-related infection at new hospital
Health Board chief executive Jane Grant, the QE University Hospital, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman and Health Board representative Jonathan McColl.
By Bill Heaney
Concerned West Dunbartonshire and Argyll patients and their families using the showpiece Queen Elizabeth University Hospital were today seeking reassurances about their safety following the deaths of two patients who had an infection linked to pigeon droppings.
Scotland’s health secretary will meet senior NHS officials to discuss the embarrassing and concerning situation facing the local Health Board.
Jeane Freeman will speak to Jane Grant, the chief executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board, and senior clinical staff to seek reassurance for patients.
Ms Freeman must now be coming to accept that the position of Cabinet Secretary for Health which she was given by Nicola Sturgeon after the resignation of Shona Robison was a poisoned chalice.
It emerged at the weekend that a non-public room in the hospital containing machinery has been identified as a likely source of the pigeon infection.
And that the birds, which congregate on the roof and around the entrances to the hospital seeking food, may have entered through heating and air conditioning ducts.
The Health Board have been anxious to reassure the public that infection control measures are now securely in place as an investigation continues.
But Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of West Dunbartonshire Council who is a member of the Health Board – and has been criticised for poor attendance there – refuses to comment about anything to The Democrat.
Bonhill Bridge and pigeons of the roofs of houses at Riverside Estate.
He was not available to answer another question as to whether the Council itself act in light of the disclosures from the hospital on the situation at Bonhill Bridge and Riverside estate in Alexandria, where pigeons roost in large numbers.
There are concerns about pigeons roosting under railway bridges right across West Dunbartonshire and in Helensburgh and about people feeding these birds in places such as the Quay in Dumbarton.
An MS patient and her husband were interviewed by BBC Scotland about the pigeons.
They said they had written to Shona Robison months ago about the build-up of pigeon droppings and the danger of infection.
But the Health Board said they had no record of that letter and that they couldn’t find it when they looked for it.
It emerged that the two patients who had died at the hospital had contracted a Cryptococcus fungal infection, which is linked to pigeon droppings.
The health board said one of the patients was elderly and had died from an unrelated cause. The factors contributing to the death of the other patient are being investigated.
The hospital is safe for patients and visitors, and the health board has apologised for the disruption caused by measures taken to control the infection.
There have been previous cases of cack-handed handling of official announcements from the Health Board, including one involving legionnaire’s disease linked with a public house in the Southside of Glasgow.
Ms Freeman told the BBC: “Our primary concern, and that of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGCC), remains the safety and wellbeing of the patients and their families at the hospital.
“I am meeting with the health board’s chief executive and senior clinicians to discuss this incident and the necessary next steps and will be joined by the chief nursing officer and the national clinical director.
“I also hope to speak with patients and family members who have concerns if they wish.”
Ms Freeman is a former Labour special adviser who now holds one of the most important positions in the SNP government.
She said The Health Board had kept patients and their families updated on an ongoing basis and would ensure they had the opportunity to discuss concerns with the senior clinical team.
Portable air filter units have been installed in specific areas of the hospital as an additional precaution. There have been no further cases reported.
However, on Sunday, former health secretary Alex Neil called for an inquiry into the deaths as it emerged concerns about pigeon numbers at the hospital were raised in December.
Mr Neil told BBC Scotland: “I think there has to be an outside inquiry by experts to find why this happened in the first place, secondly how it has been handled by the health board and, thirdly, what precautions need to be taken for the future.”