Monica Lennon MSP and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.
By Bill Heaney
Robust and reliable data on the transmission of Covid-19 in healthcare settings should be in the public domain as soon as possible, Labour MSP Monica Lennon told the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday..
She said that worrying reports have emerged about a major outbreak of Covid-19 at Gartnavel hospital in Glasgow – “Families who have been affected by the outbreak have shared heartbreaking accounts of the loss of loved ones.”
Ms Lennon revealed that patient David Holgate’s family were told that he would be safe at Gartnavel.
But, after being admitted to the hospital, Mr Holgate tested negative for Covid-19.
However, he was later struck down by the virus and he died, alone, in the hospital.
His daughter, Mags, told Ms Lennon: ““The virus blew through the hospital like a draught.”
The MSP asked Cabinet Secretary Jeane Freeman if she had any message for the Holgate family and to others affected by the Gartnavel outbreak.
Jeane Freeman said: “My direct response is to express my condolences to that family, and to other families, for the loss of their loved ones, and my sympathy to those others who have concerns.
“Gartnavel hospital, like others, has three pathways for the management of patients. The red pathway is used when a hospital knows that an incoming patient has Covid-19. The amber pathway is used for contacts when a patient is suspected of having Covid-19. The green pathway is for non-Covid-19 patients or for those who have been stepped down from isolation precautions, as per the national guidance.
“NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde initiated a blanket screening policy for all patients every four days, which is broadly consistent with the over-70s testing that we have introduced.
“There are two issues here. One is that it is very difficult to know. When someone is admitted to hospital, they may test negative for Covid-19, but that does not mean that they are not incubating the disease. The 14-day incubation period makes it difficult to be certain about that.
“Secondly, boards and the hospitals within boards should have very clear infection prevention and control procedures.
“Ms Lennon is right that this is a serious matter. We must understand, as best we can, what more we must do to ensure that we minimise the transmission of Covid-19 in hospitals.
“That is why we are doing that work with the European body and with our counterparts in the other three nations of the UK, so that we can reach an agreed definition of what we are looking for and what we are counting.
“That is also why the chief nursing officer’s nosocomial (taste and smell) infection group is due to report back at the beginning of next month with its recommendations for further actions.
“We will take those actions once we know what is recommended. The chief nursing officer has also instructed the healthcare inspectorate to restart its direct inspections, to ensure that proper infection prevention and control measures are consistently in place across all hospital settings.”
Monica Lennon said the Gartnavel outbreak raises questions about the safety of other Scottish hospitals and healthcare settings – “Health board papers confirm that, during March and April this year, more than 20 ward closures occurred in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde because of Covid-19 outbreaks.
“Can the cabinet secretary confirm the total number of wards that have been closed at Gartnavel hospital and across Scotland as a result of Covid-19 outbreaks? If she cannot give those figures today, will she follow that up?
“Given that hundreds of patients, including those who were untested, were discharged into care homes, will the cabinet secretary explain what steps have been taken to trace care home residents who were in any of the hospitals where Covid-19 outbreaks occurred, so that action could and can be taken to isolate them and stop the spread of the virus?”
Jeane Freeman replied: “I do not know the exact number of wards that were closed across all our hospital settings. I will secure the number and ensure that she has it as quickly as possible.
“On the second part of Monica Lennon’s question, there are two datasets: the discharge dataset and the testing dataset. Public Health Scotland holds those datasets. In order to respond in a way that means that we are confident that the data is robust, Public Health Scotland is working to bring together those datasets. That is not as straightforward as it might sound. In bringing together the data, we need to ensure that it is comparable, that we are not double counting, that we are not underestimating and that we are measuring the same things as far as possible.
“Public Health Scotland has that work under way. As soon as it advises me that it has completed the work and it has double-checked and is confident about the robustness of the data, we will publish it. I will make sure that members know the publication date and the frequency with which the data will continue to be published.”