By Democrat reporter
A police probe into failings at Scotland’s super-hospital has caused a major public inquiry to be suspended, families have been told.
The Sunday Mail has revealed how key witnesses are concerned over giving evidence about the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in case they incriminate themselves.
Officials handling the Scottish Hospitals Inquiry have now cancelled hearings into the troubled £842 million Glasgow site which were planned for later this year.
The decision by Lord Brodie, pictured left, has caused frustration for families who have been waiting years for answers on why their children became infected with rare bugs while being treated at the hospital.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Families shouldn’t have to wait a second longer than they have to… to get the answers and justice they deserve.
“The lack of transparency and sickening levels of evasion must end. We’ve always believed many of the failures have been criminal. Despite that, no one has taken responsibility. No one has resigned or been sacked.”
Dozens of families involved in the inquiry have also been told the police probe is part of the reason why the hearings have been delayed. Officers have been quizzing frontline NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) staff as well as whistleblowers, board members and senior management.
It’s now understood one element of the police investigation is looking into the use of infection-preventing drugs – known as prophylactic medication – which were given to some sick children to protect them from bugs in the water and air.
The inquiry is understood to have received evidence from one expert who is concerned about the use of prophylactic medicines and the long-term effects it can cause for patients.
Steven Love QC, a lawyer representing families affected by the scandal, told the inquiry last year that parents weren’t told their children were being given the medicine to protect them from the bugs and some were told it was part of their child’s cancer treatment.
In December, the Sunday Mail told how four-year-old cancer patient James Campbell was given secret treatment of antibiotics, which father knew nothing about.
One source close to the inquiry confirmed there had been key witnesses wary of giving evidence due to the police probe, adding: “There is a fear some witnesses won’t give evidence if they think they are going to face criminal prosecution and, if they ask a lawyer, they would tell them not to give evidence at all in this circumstance.”
The hearings into issues with the building of the delayed £150 million Edinburgh Royal Hospital for Children and Young People have also been postponed.
Anne Marie Kirkpatrick and her daughter Stevie Jo, from Dumfries, have given evidence to the inquiry and said they were disappointed with the postponed hearings. Stevie Jo, 17, was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was nine and had been receiving treatment at the QEUH when she was infected with a rare bug.
Although now cancer-free, the teenager has been left with scars for life from the infection, which caused lesions all over her body.
She said: “I found it really hard to give evidence and tell them what I had gone through. If I have to do that again because of this, I will – but I just want it to be over.”
Stevie Jo told inquiry chair Lord Brodie that she had felt lonely, isolated and scared while at the hospital and her mum said she had developed PTSD.
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane, right, said: “Serious questions must be answered as to why this inquiry has been allowed to drag on and has come to an abrupt halt.”
A spokesman for Thompsons Solicitors, which represents 54 families involved in the inquiry, said: “We understand that the hearings being pushed back for a time may cause concerns but Thompsons believe on balance this is being done for good reasons and will be to the benefit of our whole client base and for the ability of the inquiry to uncover the truth.”
The Scottish Hospitals Inquiry said: “We are aware of the police investigation but claims it has resulted in a delay to hearings or the inquiry’s work are inaccurate.
“Lord Brodie recognises the importance core participants, including patients and families, attach to hearings. His decision to postpone hearings now was to ultimately hold robust ones when a fuller picture was formed of the elements we are looking into.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it “remains fully committed to the public inquiry” and a number of staff were “ being interviewed” as part of it.
The Scottish Government said: “As the inquiry is established, any matters on how it operates is a matter for independent chair Lord Brodie.”
Police Scotland said its investigation is ongoing.