By Bill Heaney
Since we broke the news that the local Health Board had employed private investigators to spy on relatives of people who had died while receiving treatment in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which covers West Dunbartonshire, Argyll and the city itself, the subject came up at a funeral reception I attended in the interim.
A GP, whose company I was in, expressed the view that much of what was being alleged about the hospital was “the usual exaggeration and misinformation people receive in the media these days.”
Today, however, I felt vindicated and proud of The Democrat and those journalistic colleagues who also reported on the scandal surrounding Scotland’s showpiece hospital, which will have cost around £1 billion of public money by the time it is finished.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar confirmed everything we reported when he told the Holyrood parliament: “NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has paid a private company to spy on Louise Slorance, a grieving widow who lost her husband in the Queen Elizabeth university hospital infections scandal.”
He added: “Why does the First Minister have confidence in the leadership of a health board that spies on the families of dead patients?”
Surely the sneering about the media must now stop and it will at last be accepted accept as fact that during Nicola Sturgeon’s time as First Minister we lived in Secret Scotland.
And that, from the top down, from the parliament in Edinburgh to the council in West Dunbartonshire, there is no such thing as openness and transparency and that democracy in this country is dying on its feet.
Andrew and Louise Slorance pictured with three of their children.
Freedom of expression … freedom of the press … the right of the public to know what is being done in their name … have all been quashed by hubris-tic self important officials, media manipulators and spin doctors.
Louise Slorance was sitting in the public gallery overlooking the parliamentary chamber when First Minister Humza Yousaf addressed Mr Sarwar’s questions.
He told MSPs, including Dumbarton constituency member Jackie Baillie, who has raised questions about the health board, demanded resignations of officials and the introduction of special measures in the hospital over the years: “I again give my condolences to Louise Slorance on the death of Andrew. Andrew Slorance was a colleague.
“On the back of a previous question that Anas Sarwar asked, I reached out to Louise Slorance, and I believe that we will be meeting shortly. I am happy to discuss with her these issues and any others that she wishes to discuss.
“I was disturbed by the reports that were in the newspapers in this regard. It is my understanding—I am sure that Anas Sarwar would expect this—that a level of media monitoring is done by a board, particularly one that is the size of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
“However, having listened to the concerns that have been raised by Louise Slorance, I think that the board has taken the right action by removing her from the media monitoring that it does.
“I have already requested that the board listens compassionately and sensitively to the patients who have been impacted and affected.
“I understand that it is reviewing its media monitoring and communications processes. At the heart of those should be patients and, in particular, people who have been bereaved and those who have raised concerns about those issues.”
In truth, what was happening today was a long way from admission and contrition from Humza Yousaf.
The First Minister was attempting to whitewash this scandalous situation when he dropped the word “spying” and replaced it with “media monitoring and communications processes”.
That was straightforward spin doctoring on the part of Humza Yousaf.
Anas Sarwar told him: “What the leadership of the health board is doing is disgusting. It is just the latest in a litany of shameful incidents, which has seen the leadership of the health board intimidate whistleblowers, engage in a cover-up and frustrate the efforts of grieving families who are looking for justice.
“However, instead of backing patients, Humza Yousaf, as the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, decided to take the board out of special measures and empower those who were responsible.
“The culture of the board is rotten. It is so rotten that its director of communications allegedly thought that it was acceptable to say, of a father who was fighting for justice for his sick daughter, that he might have ‘won the battle but he won’t win the war’.
“Louise Slorance, John Cuddihy and other families like theirs have been treated with contempt, so I again ask the First Minister why he has confidence in the leadership of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.”
“On whistle-blowing, I make it clear, as I did in my previous role as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, that we do not just value the role that our whistle-blowing champions play; we believe that their role is critical.
“I met the whistle-blowing champion of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde—in fact, I have met the whistle-blowing champions of every health board in the country.
“As First Minister, I reiterate and emphasise that any staff member in the NHS who has concerns should raise those issues through the appropriate processes. That should include feeling empowered to use the whistle-blowing processes that exist.
“Anas Sarwar will know that there is a process in place for de-escalation. Given that the overwhelming majority of the oversight recommendations were accepted, it was right to de-escalate NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde at the time.
“We will judge the board on the extent to which it steps up, accepts the recommendations and implements them. We will also fully co-operate with the public inquiry that is in place.”
“Louise Slorance’s husband died at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital and she has been fighting for answers for two years. Louise is in the gallery today, listening to our exchanges. Earlier, she told me: ‘We cannot wait any longer.
“Empty words just don’t cut it. At the end of the day, the people who were in charge when Andrew and others lost their lives are still there. The people who created the problem, who covered up and lied to families aren’t going to be the ones to fix it’.”
Mr Sarwar asked: “How much more does she and other families have to go through?
“The First Minister does not need to wait for an inquiry to know that spying on families of dead patients is wrong; he simply needs to look to his conscience.
“Why will he not finally do the right thing and sack the rotten leadership of the board so that we can get a fresh start and justice for those families?”
“In relation to the case of Andrew Slorance—again, I am happy to speak to Louise Slorance in detail about this—Anas Sarwar will be aware that we asked for an external peer review of the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde case by NHS Lothian. A determination was made after that case.
“I have said already that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde will co-operate with the public inquiry, and we will continue to hold NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to account. I repeat and reiterate what I have said time and again, as health secretary and, now, as First Minister: if staff have concerns, I would expect them to raise those issues, without fear or favour, not just through the appropriate processes but through whistle-blowing, where appropriate, as well.
“I look forward to engaging with the Scottish Labour Party in relation to our Patient Safety Commissioner for Scotland Bill, which Labour and other parties are engaged with, so that we can enhance the rights of patients, not just in greater Glasgow and Clyde but right across the country.”