NHS board’s £15,000 a year to social media to spy on patients

Louise Slorance, who was hacked after her husband died, has condemned local Health Board for wasting public money

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde was caught spying on its patients

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde was caught spying on its patients at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and Royal Children’s Hospital and Chief Executive Jane Grant and chairperson John Brown who have been called on to resign.

By Bill Heaney

The Democrat told readers on Friday that we didn’t believe Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board’s denial that they had been spying on patients on social media.

And today that has been vindicated by the Sunday Mail in an exclusive story which confirms that “a health board caught spying on patients is paying £15,000 a year to a private firm linked to the disgraced Cambridge Analytica company.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board is giving US firm Meltwater public money for its investigation software, which was used to monitor widow Louise Slorance and her dead husband Andrew.

The Sunday Mail revealed the social media monitoring firm Meltwater invested in a company owned by disgraced Cambridge University scientist Alex Kogan, who harvested personal information from 87 million Facebook users without their consent.

Louise Slorance, who has been fighting to get answers about Andrew’s death, said the health board management – chairman John Brown and chief executive Jane Grant –  should now be fired following these new revelations which were brought to the floor of the Scottish Parliament by Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

Mrs Slorance told the newspaper’s chief reporter Hannah Rodger: “It’s obscene that they’re spending £15,000 a year on this. That money should be spent on improving patient care or staff pay and conditions but this way it will have absolutely no impact.”

Ms Rodger reported today: “Since we revealed the scandal last month, NHSGGC has stopped monitoring Louise and admitted it was an ‘error of judgement’.

Louise Slorance said: “When the NHS is on its knees and we are in a cost-of-living crisis, with people unable to feed themselves, how can this use of public money be justified?”

Louise and her late husband, Andrew, with their three children.

The mum-of-three has been fighting for answers about her husband’s death after discovering he had contracted an Apergillus [water based] infection while in the £842 million Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) awaiting a stem cell transplant.

Andrew was a Scottish Government employee and worked closely with Nicola Sturgeon during the pandemic before contracting covid himself and passing away in December 2020.

Louise said the cost of the private spying programme was “unjustifiable” and also criticised NHSGGC’s handling of the fiasco. The health board sent an apology to her at 9.30pm on Thursday – more than 10 days after we first reported the story and 283 days after they started spying on her.

Louise said: “The focus at NHSGGC is to bury mistakes and undermine complainers. Their late-night apology is, doubtless, a badly designed attempt to minimise damage rather than a sign of any regret. It was too little, too late.”

She is meeting with First Minister Humza Yousaf this week to discuss Andrew’s case and will personally ask him to put NHSGGC back into special measures at the highest level and sack senior management.

She said: “Humza Yousaf needs to show the leadership expected of Scotland’s First Minister and take a grip of the QEUH scandal. I will be calling on him to immediately escalate GGC to level five, replace the board and guarantee families receive the answers they deserve without delay.”

Sunday Mail coverage of the scandal
Sunday Mail coverage of the scandal

Health board bosses can be removed by the Government if it is in level 5 special measures, which happens when its organisational structure is blocking effective care. The decision has to be taken by the Health Secretary.

Special measures were imposed previously at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital but were lifted at a time when the Health Board was in denial and in “nothing to see here, please move on” mode.

Health Secretaries (left to right) Shona Robison, Jeane Freeman, Humza Yousaf and Nicola Sturgeon, the recently resigned First Minister.

However, the SNP government had Nicola Sturgeon, Shona Robison, Jeane Freeman and Humza Yousaf in place as Health Secretaries – more than the UK government has had prime ministers recently – in place while the supposed showpiece hospital, which replaced the old Southern General, was being built.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and his deputy, Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie, who is also their health spokesperson, have also criticised the NHSGGC’s spending and lack of Government action.

Mr Sarwar said: “The blatant disregard that the SNP show towards the families involved in this scandal is shocking. Not only have those involved in spying and cover-up kept their jobs, they have received massive rewards at a time when ordinary NHS workers are struggling to get by every month.

“The grieving families affected by this scandal will no doubt be disgusted to hear that the incompetence and cover-up at the heart of the health board has been rewarded.

“The First Minister shouldn’t have to wait for an inquiry to know that spying on the families of dead patients is wrong – and that those responsible shouldn’t be receiving bonuses from the public purse.

“It’s time for the First Minister to finally do the right thing and sack the rotten leadership of this failing health board.”

A NHSGGC spokesman continued to deny they had used private investigators to spy on patients and their relatives and said the Meltwater software was used by many organisations. He claimed Andrew Slorance was not included on their social listening logs, despite emails seen by the Sunday Mail confirming content around his name was on their spying list.

He said: “Any mention of Mr Slorance would have been a result of references from Mrs Slorance’s account. We would once again apologise to Mrs Slorance for including her public account in our social listening query.”

The Cambridge Analytica controversy profoundly impacted the world of data privacy, political campaigning, and social media. Personal data belonging to millions of Facebook users was collected without their consent by consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, predominantly to be used for political advertising.

The data was collected through an app developed by data scientist Aleksandr Kogan and his company Global Science Research. The app harvested the data of millions of Facebook profiles. Meltwater would later invest in Philometrics, another Kogan firm that did not use Facebook data. The scientist also worked with Meltwater in San Francisco.

Cack-handed spin doctors and complicit Health Board executives issues the following statement, which The Democrat refused to believe on Friday evening:


Following recent reports in the media, in relation to social media listening at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, we would like to share with you the statement that has been issued to the media on this matter.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde media statement

We want to make absolutely clear that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has never used private investigators to spy on patients and their families.

The practice we use, called social media listening, plays a key role in issues management for companies and organisations worldwide by offering access to publicly available online and social conversations through perfectly legitimate and internationally accepted software companies that are used by tens of thousands of private and public sector organisations every day, such as the Meltwater platform, which is used by more than 27,000 global customers including NHSGGC.

In monitoring public conversations surrounding our organisation through social listening, we erroneously reviewed public individual posts shared by the relative of a patient. This was an isolated case for which we have since apologised to the individual, and we have ceased all such monitoring.

Our decision to perform our searches via a social media listening tool was in response to a recommendation from the Scottish Government’s Oversight Board, which found that NHSGGC was at times slow in responding to activity on social media. The Oversight Board recommended that we should learn from other organisations in Scotland and across the UK, and take steps to more effectively monitor and respond to social media activity.

Top picture: Anas Sarwar says Health Board is making the families’ lives ‘hell’ for families. He is pictured with Kimberly Darroch, the mother of ten year old Milly Main,  who also died in the Queen Elizabeth and Royal Children’s Hospital dirty water scandal.

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