Toxic dust from demolition site contaminated water supply and led to killer infections at £1 billion hospital

Newly released documents suggest the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital was doomed to fail before it opened in June 2015.

The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and The Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow
The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and The Royal Hospital for Children.

Toxic dust from a ­demolition site next to Scotland’s flagship ­hospital caused water supply contamination which led to deadly infections in patients.

Bombshell documents point to safety at the £842 million super hospital being compromised before it even opened in June 2015.

The site – which includes the Royal Hospital for Sick ­Children – was being built at the same time as the Southern ­General Hospital it replaced was being demolished next to it.

Consultant clinical scientist Susanne Lee, commissioned to carry out an independent probe into the water system in 2018, found it was already poisoned by bacteria, likely caused by dust from the adjacent demolition.

Dr Lee told the ­Sunday Mail that the transfer of patients into the hospital should have been delayed. She said: “People tend to take precautions by dampening down to minimise the amount of dust.

“I wasn’t involved so I have no idea what happened during the construction, only what I’ve seen in the documentation which was given to me. There should have been a risk assessment. I can’t tell you if that was done or not.

“But if you’ve got a new build going up in proximity to one that’s being demolished at the same time, the risk [from dust] is ­recognised so there should have been a risk assessment and a plan, particularly to minimise that risk. If I had been asked for my ­opinion at the time, I would have said there should have been a delay [in opening].”

Families who have lost loved ones to infections, including the mum of 10-year-old Milly Main and the widow of Andrew Slorance, a former journalist turned government comms adviser, said it was now imperative they got straight answers from senior management at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Anas Sarwar

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who has repeatedly challenged the Scottish Government over the hospital’s ­failing, said: “Clinicians have told me that right from the start this ­hospital was a risk and that lives were in ­danger.

“That has been backed up by the water reports and now this finding on the construction and demolition only goes to strengthen that. We’ve got a government now famous for secrecy and cover-up and mismanagement. In this case it has been with devastating ­consequences.”

The Scottish ­Hospitals Inquiry was set up to look at issues around the building of two hospital sites – the QEUH ­campus and ­Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for ­Children and Young People.

The inquiry ­documents outline a “history of infection concerns” at the site. The inquiry paper ­confirms that Dr Lee’s report ­“concluded that it is likely that the system was contaminated before handover”.

It added: “Fluctuations in the water temperature experienced since opening of the hospital were also a likely contributing factor; and that fungus in the water ­system was likely due to the dust levels around the site during ­construction and demolitions.”

Dr Lee was called in after a series of bacteria infections, which included 51 among children with blood cancer in 2017 at Ward 2A of the children’s hospital, which a year later had to be closed. Asked how long the delay should have been, she said: “Until they’d ­rectified and there had been a new risk assessment which said it was safe for patients to go in there.”

Following Dr Lee’s report, ­further checks were carried out on the water system. The Scottish Hospital Inquiry papers state: “In order to ­understand where the bacteria were located within the water supply, samples were taken from all parts of the water system. Results showed that all floors had some contamination, indicating that the problem was widespread.”

It states there was “the presence of cockroaches, fungal odour, room not ventilated, water ingress and dried algae present on the floor”.

Further checks on the child cancer ward, 2A, discovered “thick black and yellow grime was visible in the drains”.

Milly Main, 10, died at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in 2017
Milly Main, 10, died at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in 2017

The documents state that two out of three patient infections matched swabs taken from the drains which revealed bacteria.

The health board agreed to close the ward for refurbishment after pressure from senior medics.

It was then discovered that dirty and clean extractor fans were connected “which means that dirty air could be ­recirculated, potentially causing the problem with bacteria”.

Another probe carried out by a consultant on behalf of the health board in September 2018 linked the water problems with the patient infections. It “confirmed widespread ­contamination of the water system”.

Yet another report was carried out in 2019, by NHS body Health Facilities Scotland, which also concluded the water supply was to blame and likely ­contaminated during ­construction.

It said: “It should be noted that Health Facilities Scotland ­concluded that contamination of the water system was thought to have occurred at one or more times during installation, and that best practice had not been ­followed in design, installation, handover, operation or maintenance of the water system.”

An NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde spokesman said the latest inquiry papers “have not been analysed or investigated by the inquiry nor have they been proved to be ­factually correct”.

He directed the Sunday Mail to the health board’s own response to the inquiry documents in which state the health board “does not accept that, on the basis of evidence currently available, any aspect of the water, drainage or ventilation systems” in the ­hospital campus “has posed a risk to the safety of patients beyond that which may be reasonably expected in any comparable ­hospital environment”.

A Scottish Government ­spokeswoman said: “As an ­independent core participant of the nquiry, the Scottish ­Government is committed to assisting the Inquiry and therefore cannot comment on specific details at this time.”

The NHS board launched legal action against the contractors Multiplex, Brookfield Europe, ­Currie & Brown and Capita Property and Infrastructure over what it claims were defects it found at the hospital campus.

Capital declined ­comment. The other companies did not respond to requests for comment.

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