Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Above, Andrew Slorance, his wife Louise and three of their children.
Report by Bill Heaney
Despite the tragic loss of life, the cover-ups and the denials, not a single person has been held accountable for the catastrophic errors at Queen Elizabeth university hospital., according to Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.
He told MSPs at Holyrood earlier today: “That cannot continue. From start to finish, the scandal has happened under Nicola Sturgeon’s watch. She was health secretary when the hospital was commissioned and built, and First Minister when it was opened.
“Since then, water reports have been ignored; there have been deadly building flaws; patients have been getting infections; wards have closed; there have been patient deaths; and staff have been bullied and silenced.
“There has been an independent review, a case note review, a public inquiry, criminal investigations and continued failings and cover-ups. Families are still having to go public to fight the system and get the truth.
“Enough is enough. This is the worst scandal of the devolution era. In any other country in the world, there would be resignations and sackings, but under this Government, there is denial and cover-up. How many more families have to lose loved ones before anyone is held to account?”
Mr Sarwar said he had repeatedly come to the parliamentary chamber “to raise tragedy after tragedy” at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, the remit of which also runs to West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute.
He added: “Despite that, we still have a culture of cover-up, denial and families being failed. Everyone should read the heart-breaking words of Louise Slorance, the widow of Andrew Slorance, who died in December after being treated for cancer in the hospital.
“Andrew was the First Minister’s official spokesperson in 2007, then head of the Scottish Government’s response and communication unit. He was at the heart of the Covid pandemic response
“Andrew went into hospital to get treatment that would prolong his life; instead, in hospital, he contracted Covid and a fungal infection—Aspergillus, which is a deadly bacteria that is often linked to water or mould. He died just days later.
“His wife, Louise, told me that she was never informed about the fungal infection. She had to uncover that in his medical notes after his death. She has spoken courageously of her anger, shock, distress and disappointment.
“Why, despite everything that has happened, do we still have a culture of cover-up, secrecy and denial, with families being forced to take on the system to get the truth?”
Despite the fact that Scotland is now regularly referred to in the media and elsewhere as Secret Scotland because public bodies’ frequently go into cover-up mode whenever they are challenged on anything that might reflect badly on their image, Nicola Sturgeon told parliament: “This Government and I will not tolerate cover-ups or secrecy on the part of any health board. Where there are concerns about that, we will address those concerns.”
In The Democrat’s case the SNP have gone even further by banning and boycotting our digital news platform in West Dunbartonshire and smearing the editor by falsely accusing him of assaulting two women.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “I assure members that I have read Louise’s words very closely. I always do that when relatives of people who have died or received substandard care in our national health service speak out, as that is part of my duty. In this case, I have obviously also done that because I knew Andrew very well.
“Andrew was a greatly valued member of the Scottish Government team. He is deeply missed by everyone who had the privilege of working with him, which certainly includes me. I first met Andrew on the very first day that I served in Government, back in 2007. He made an exceptional contribution to the Scottish Government’s work, and my thoughts are often with his loved ones and, in particular, his wife, Louise, and his children.
“My officials have already engaged this morning with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde so that the concerns that have been raised are properly investigated. We will do everything possible to ensure that Andrew’s family members get the answers that they seek, and we will consider carefully whether the concerns that Louise Slorance has raised raise wider issues that require to be addressed. The chief operating officer of NHS Scotland has contacted NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde this morning to start to establish the facts, and I have asked for information to be available later today, when we will assess what further steps require to be taken.
“In relation to the issue at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, and other issues that have been raised over the years about the hospital, including by Anas Sarwar, a public inquiry is under way. I hope that that is a sign of our determination to ensure that any issues that are raised are properly investigated and that answers are forthcoming. The Government and I are determined that that will be the case in relation to Andrew Slorance’s death.”
Mr Sarwar said he had listened to these comments before from Ms Sturgeon. He said: “The First Minister says that she has heard these concerns from me for years, so why are these things still happening? If even the widow of Andrew Slorance cannot get the truth and justice that he deserves, when he was at the heart of this Government, what chance does anybody else in our country have? This is a repeated pattern.
“Consider the scandal at the children’s cancer ward that led to the tragic death of Milly Main, pictured right. In that case, a bacteria linked to water, Stenotrophomonas, was identified by infection-control doctors, ignored by management and covered up. In this case, a bacteria linked to water and mould, Aspergillus, was identified by infection-control doctors, ignored by management and covered up. That is a culture of secrecy and denial, and the Government cannot escape that fact.
“Such cover-ups have deadly consequences, so I ask the First Minister agree to Louise Slorance’s demands: first, an independent case note review into all Aspergillus cases at the hospital; secondly, an independent Crown Office-led investigation into hospital-acquired Covid infections; and thirdly, for the public inquiry remit to be expanded to include Aspergillus cases.
“Crucially, though, the health board leadership [chair Andrew Brown and chief executive Jane Grant] has lost the confidence of clinicians, patients, parents and the public. Given everything that has already happened, and everything that has been uncovered, why is the health board leadership in Glasgow still in place?”
Health Board chief executive Jane Grant and chairman John Brown.
The First Minister replied: “I will continue to address the issues raised. My officials have already engaged with the health board today, and I have asked for further information. Later today, when I have had the opportunity to look at and assess that information, I will consider, with the [Humza Yousaf] Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, what additional steps are required.
“I note that Louise Slorance has requested a case note review. A case note review was carried out in relation to earlier issues at the Queen Elizabeth, so it is a reasonable request, which I will consider with the health secretary later.
“On Louise Slorance’s other two requests, I absolutely understand why the requests have been made but, as I know Anas Sarwar is aware, the Crown Office is independent of ministers and can look into any cases that it deems appropriate.
“It is not appropriate for me, as First Minister, to instruct the Crown Office in these matters. Similarly, the public inquiry is, rightly and properly, operating independently of ministers. It is able to look at any issues associated with the Queen Elizabeth that it considers appropriate.
“To be beyond any doubt, there is no objection on the part of the Government to the public inquiry looking into any of the issues that have been raised in relation to Andrew Slorance by his wife today. However, it is not for me to instruct the public inquiry, because it is operating independently of ministers and will decide which issues it wishes to consider.”
Anas Sarwar then accused the First Minister of “dodging the question” about the leadership of the health board – “I am sorry—the answer is not good enough because, as the First Minister herself noted, these issues have been raised for years.
“The right thing to do would not be to ask an official to make contact with the leadership of the health board and have the process that comes back. The right thing to do would be for the First Minister to grip the issue, take ownership of it and get it sorted out.”
The First Minister was also put on the spot by the Labour MSP Paul O’Kane, who told her: “The heartbroken family of Andrew Slorance is not the only family seeking answers about what happened to loved ones at Queen Elizabeth university hospital.
“Theresa Smith has spoken of the deep pain that her family has endured since the death of her daughter, Sophia, in April 2017 at just 12 days old. Sophia died of an infection that she contracted at the Queen Elizabeth, despite initially responding well to treatment for breathing problems.
“The family was not informed and had to fight for a post mortem to know the truth. Theresa and her family have described the tortuous journey to try and get answers about what happened, with phone calls, emails and letters stonewalled. She, too, has pointed to a cover-up.
“I heard what the First Minister said in response to Anas Sarwar about the public inquiry. Does she recognise that the inquiry did not save Andrew Slorance and will not save patients right now? What is the Government doing immediately to prevent such terrible and tragic deaths from happening again?”
The First Minister stressed: “Infection prevention and control is a priority in every hospital all the time, which is absolutely right and proper, as is the need to learn lessons when things go wrong. That is a daily priority for hospitals and health boards across the country.
“I convey my sympathies to Sophia’s family. If the member wants to correspond with me, I am very willing to see whether there is something that the Government can do to help get the answers that Sophia’s family understandably want. In a situation such as this, it is right, and it was called for, that we have a proper independent statutory public inquiry.
“That is not the sign of a Government trying to cover things up; it is the sign of the opposite. It is the sign of a Government that is determined to get to the truth, determined to find the facts, determined to get the answers, and determined to learn the lessons, and that is what we should be seeing.”