First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

By Bill Heaney

Labour leader Anas Sarwar took the chairman and chief executive of the local health board to task in the Scottish Parliament today over their “complacent and belligent attitude” in relations to those who have expressed concern over deaths  from dirty water infections and pigeon droppings at the Queen Elizabeth University and Royal Children’s Hospital complex, which serves West Dunbartonshire and Argyll.
Mr Sarwar told MSPs that the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board, of which Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration at West Dunbartonshire Council is a member, has been in level 4 special measures for more than two years, since November 2019.
He asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: “The Scottish Government set up an oversight board. When did that oversight board last meet?”
Taken aback by the question, Ms Sturgeon told him: “The assurance group that flowed from the oversight board is due to meet on 17 November. It has been a couple months since it has met, if I am correct.
“More than 80 per cent of all recommendations of the oversight board have already been implemented, just as the recommendations that came from the independent review have been.
“That is the action that has been taken to address concerns around the Queen Elizabeth university hospital while we await the work of the independent public inquiry, which Anas Sarwar previously called for.”
Mr Sarwar suggested that her answer was just not good enough. He said: “The answer that the First Minister is looking for is that the oversight board that the Scottish Government set up last met in March—nine months ago.
“The review group to which she has referred has not met for more than two months, and she says that it is due to meet in November. Despite everything that has happened in the past month, the oversight board has not met for nine months and the review group has not met for two months, but the First Minister wants families and staff to believe that the Government has a grip on the crisis.”
Mr Sarwar, who has taken up the cases of bereaved families, added: “Last week, the First Minister told us that there had been two healthcare infection incident assessment tool—HIIAT—red warnings and one amber warning in the past year.
“I learned from the health board yesterday that none of those warnings was about cases that I have raised in the past month—not Andrew Slorance’s death with Aspergillus, not the case of the child with Stenotrophomonas in the past few months and not the case that I raised last week of a child who died with Serratia.
“All of those high-risk bacteria are linked to water in the hospital environment, and none of those cases triggered a HIIAT red warning, despite everything that has happened and despite all of those cases meeting the warning criteria. If that is not the definition of cover-up and denial, what is?”

Ms Sturgeon, who looked rattled, replied: “On the issue of the oversight board, the point is not about meetings but about actions. To be precise, 88 per cent of the oversight board’s recommendations have already been completed and the remaining actions do not relate directly to patient safety.

“The advice, assurance and review group will meet next week, on Friday 17 December, and the interim chief nursing officer will chair the meeting. It is about ensuring that recommendations are implemented, and that is what has happened.

” I set out at some length last week the fact that notifications to Government under the HIIAT procedure happen when two or more linked cases of infection occur, and I set out the number that had happened in the adult hospital.

“That point is about triggering a notification to the Scottish Government. However, when those notifications do not happen, it does not mean that no action is taken. Health boards have problem assessment groups or other types of actions that address any issues relating to infections.

“It is simply not the case that infections are not taken seriously. As I said last week—a point that Anas Sarwar conceded and agreed with—it will never be possible for any hospital anywhere to eradicate and avoid all cases of infection, despite the best efforts. However, all cases of infection are taken seriously at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital and at every other hospital, which is what I expect.”

Anas Sarwar said: “The First Minister was wrong last week, and she is wrong this week, on the criteria for HIIAT red warnings. I have the HIIAT red criteria right in front of me. I would expect the First Minister, as a former health secretary, to know better. It is clear that, if any one of the major criteria is met, the case is classed as HIIAT red. That is any one of the following: risk of transmission, requiring a major clinical intervention, risk to life, rare infection, associated mortality or public interest.

“Only one of those criteria needs to be met, but I think that more than one—if not all of them—has been met in each of the three cases, yet there has been no HIIAT red warning for any of them. Perhaps the health secretary [Hunsa Yousaf] and the First Minister will review the HIIAT document and come to understand how the procedure works.

“Despite all the revelations of the past three months and everything that has happened over the past two years; despite the demands of families and staff for openness; and despite the calls for the First Minister to get a grip of the crisis, the oversight board has not met for nine months, the review group has not met for more than two months and the health board is still not reporting deadly infections in the hospital.

Health Board chief executive Jane Grant and chairperson John Brown were asked to resign.

“I met the chair and chief executive of the health board yesterday. How can the First Minister still have confidence in them? Their complacent and belligerent attitude demonstrates everything that is wrong with the culture at the top of the health board. Why, after everything that we have learned, does the First Minister continue to take their word over the word of staff, families and patients, who surely deserve better?”

The First Minister was angry now. She told MSPs: “That is an utter mischaracterisation of my position. I know very well how the framework operates, and what I have set out is the case. As I said a moment ago, 88 per cent of the oversight board’s recommendations have already been implemented, and a process of scrutiny in the form of the independent public inquiry is already under way.

“We take, and have taken, seriously any and all concerns that are raised about the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. As I said last week, Anas Sarwar wants to suggest to people that the Queen Elizabeth is somehow less safe than other hospitals, but the evidence does not bear that out. I am unable to comment on individual cases because of patient confidentiality, but all concerns that are raised are taken extremely seriously, which I know will have been discussed with Anas Sarwar yesterday.

“I have made it very clear that any member of staff who has concerns and feels that those concerns are not being taken seriously or that they are not being allowed to speak out should feel free to come to me or the health secretary with their concerns.

“We will continue to ensure that all actions are taken to deliver high-quality patient care in the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, which clinicians already provide. That is important.

“It is important that Anas Sarwar and other members come to the chamber to raise concerns. However, let us not undermine confidence in a hospital that is delivering high-quality care for patients every single day.”

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