By Bill Heaney
Jackie Baillie has demanded “total transparency” after the departure of a third lawyer from the Scottish Hospitals Inquiry has thrown the inquiry into disarray.
Three lawyers involved in the inquiry into the infections scandal at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital have resigned in under a month, amid reported concerns about timescales and quality of work.
While one lawyer seemingly left to join the Covid-19 Inquiry, the circumstances surrounding the first two departures are still unclear.
These mass exits will put added pressure on the inquiry, which sources have already warned was being rushed.
Dame Jackie Baillie, left, Dumbarton constituency MSP, has said it is “essential” that the inquiry maintains the trust of the patients and families affected by the scandal, as family members express concerns about its progress.
She said: “The loss of three lawyers in such a short space of time is a massive blow to this vital inquiry.
“Those affected by this scandal, including patients and families from my own constituency, have been failed at every turn and were too often kept in the dark by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
“Families and whistleblowers have been badly failed – they simply cannot be expected to wait even longer for answers.
“It is essential that the inquiry maintains their trust and that requires total transparency around the causes and consequences of these departures.
“This inquiry must have the support it needs to shed some light on this tragedy and provide the answers victims deserve.”
It was revealed at the weekend that Samantha Rore, a solicitor for the Scottish Hospitals Inquiry, has left after nearly three years just weeks after counsel Alastair Duncan and his deputy Victoria Arnott also quit.
The inquiry is looking at the problems with the £842 million Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) campus in Glasgow and Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Children and Young People after patients became infected with rare bacteria and some died at the Glasgow site.
It was ordered by former health secretary Jeane Freeman, right, after families reported they weren’t told about infections their loved ones got and two people died when they became infected with bacteria linked to pigeon droppings while in the QEUH.
Sources close to the inquiry have told the Sunday Mail there was “discontent” among the lawyers, with concerns over timescales and the quality of work produced by some officials.Rore left earlier this month and has joined the Covid-19 Inquiry in a move not thought to be linked to the others quitting. Duncan and Arnott have remained tight-lipped about their reason for resigning, with the inquiry team also failing to offer an explanation for their departure when asked.
But sources close to the investigation said there had been “animus” between Duncan and some of the officials and said: “I think Alastair wasn’t happy with some of the work being produced by the junior staff. He felt it wasn’t up to scratch and wasn’t acceptable.
“He was also very concerned about the timetable for the next set of hearings about the Glasgow hospital as he thought there was not enough time to prepare for them and the whole thing was being rushed. Lord Brodie did ask him to stay on but he chose not to. It’s a real blow because it will now slow things down hugely while a replacement is brought in.”
Another senior legal expert suggested there would be difficulties in recruiting replacements for those leaving their posts due to the complexity of the inquiry and the internal tensions.
They said: “Whether they’re going to get anyone that wants to step up to something like this in a situation where there’s been so much disquiet with both COVID and the hospitals… It doesn’t look like the best job in the world, does it?”
Families involved in the inquiry said they are concerned about its progress and called for reassurances from chairman Lord Brodie. David Campbell’s son James was four when he was diagnosed with cancer and had treatment at the QEUH.
He said: “My trust in the Scottish Hospitals Inquiry is diminishing daily. We’ve already had delays due to police investigations and now, with the unexpected resignations, it could slow things further.”