Fears new test will ‘screen out’ Down’s syndrome babies

Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing was introduced in September as part of routine pregnancy screening measures.

Concerned: Parents are fearful babies with Down's syndrome will be 'screened out' in the future. Ariel Skelley via Getty Images
Concerned: Parents are fearful babies with Down's syndrome will be 'screened out' in the future.

Fears about new pregnancy testing for Down’s syndrome are being raised by parents who have children with the condition.

Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing, or NIPT, was introduced in Scotland in September as part of routine pregnancy screening measures.

It’s more accurate than previous methods and should reduce the risk of pregnant mothers miscarrying later on.

However, some parents say that their children could be “screened out” in the future.

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Family: Kevin, Olly and Beki Byrne.
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Six-year-old Olly Byrne has Down’s syndrome, but he doesn’t let the condition hold him back.

Currently, all pregnant woman are offered a blood test to screen for the condition. However, some fear the new NIPT test could lead to an increase in the number of abortions of babies with Down’s syndrome. And that concerns Olly’s mother.

Speaking to STV News, Beki Byrne said: “Screening has its uses, it is important, and for some people they definitely want to have all the information that they can have, and that is fine. 

“The problem is, with any type of diagnosis, how it’s delivered. Leaflets aren’t enough, you’re dealing with lives. 

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“You need to have all the right information, and that doesn’t just mean the statistics of what illnesses they might get.”

Down’s syndrome occurs when you are born with an extra chromosome, which can leave children with a learning disability.

Pregnant women are routinely screened for a number of things. Those with a high chance of their baby having Down’s syndrome will now be given the opportunity to have NIPT.

Professor Marion Bain, deputy medical officer for Scotland, said: “It offers them the opportunity to have a further test, a more specific and accurate test. 

“NIPT reduces the number of women who have to go on for a confirmation diagnostic test.”

Because the test is invasive, there is a risk of test-related miscarriage.

NIPT was introduced in England several years ago. A Freedom of Information request from 26 health boards down south showed that the number of children born with Down’s syndrome has decreased by 30% since it was brought in.

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Love: Angela, Rosie, Alan and Ruth Greenwood.
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Angela Greenwood opted out of any screening whilst she was pregnant. It wasn’t until her daughter Rosie was born that she discovered she had Down’s syndrome.

Ms Greenwood said: “They talk also as well about that there is no cure, which I see quite a lot, but there doesn’t need to be a cure because it’s not a disease.

“It’s part of Rosie, and it’s part of what makes her who she is. And if we took that away, the same Rosie wouldn’t be there for us.

“In the world everyone is different, and having a variety is a good thing, I think.”

Over the next three years NIPT will be continually monitored by NHS Scotland – which believes mothers should be given as much information as possible about their unborn baby.

But for parents like Ms Greenwood and Ms Byrne, they say they wouldn’t change their children for the world, and want to show everyone that having a condition like Down’s syndrome doesn’t need to hold you back.


Scottish Government U-turns on Covid testing rules for travellers

Transport secretary says Scottish Government 'reluctantly concluded' that alignment with the UK is 'the best option'.

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The Scottish Government has U-turned over its testing regime for international travellers.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson announced on Friday that Scotland will now align with the UK Government in easing testing for people arriving from overseas.

It comes just a week after the Scottish Government decided not to follow its UK counterparts in dropping the need for a pre-departure negative test and allowing vaccinated travellers to replace the day two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow test.

Matheson said last week the UK Government’s proposals “could weaken our ability to protect the public health of Scotland’s communities”.

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He reiterated those concerns on Friday but said the Scottish Government recognises “not having UK wide alignment causes significant practical problems and creates disadvantages for Scottish businesses”.

It means the need for pre-departure tests for fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Scotland will now be removed from the end of October.

Travellers from non-red list countries who have been fully vaccinated in a country that meets recognised standards of certifications will no longer be required to provide evidence of a negative test result before they can travel to Scotland.

Scotland will also align with the UK post-arrival testing regime once the details are finalised.

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Matheson said: “We have urgently considered all these implications, weighing any possible impact on the public health and the logistical realities.

“After liaising at length with stakeholders from the aviation sector to understand the impact of adopting a different approach in Scotland, we have reluctantly concluded that, for practical reasons, alignment with the UK is the best option.

“The new proposals make clear pre-departure tests will no longer be a requirement. We also intend to align with the UK post-arrival testing regime.

“The detail of that is still being developed with lateral flow tests being considered and we will engage further with the UK Government on those plans. Details will be announced at the same time as the UK.”

Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports Ltd, which owns and operates Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, said the decision “is a welcome step forward”.

He said: “While this is something we have been urging the Scottish Government to do for months, and the subsequent delay has negatively impacted the industry in Scotland and AGS as a group, it is a welcome step forward.

“By ensuring Scotland has parity with the rest of the UK, this decision is one that will deliver much-needed consumer confidence for our passengers to start travelling again and for our airline partners to look at increasing capacity at our airports.

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“A number of restrictions on travel still remain in place and we are not yet back to anything like normal operations, but we will continue to engage with government to ensure the safe return on international travel continues and that we can rebuild the connectivity that plans a vital role in supporting our economy.”

Edinburgh Airport published a report on Thursday claiming the recovery of Scotland’s aviation sector is the slowest in the UK and continues to lag behind the rest of Europe.

The airport’s chief executive Gordon Dewar that was due to tighter restrictions and slower relaxations.

Dewar said on Friday: “We appreciate the Scottish Government’s moves to listen to industry this week and we understand their concerns, but we do think there must be more proportionality when it comes to balancing both the protection of public health and the importance of Scotland’s economic recovery.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the government to address concerns and ensure Scotland’s industries can restart as safely as possible.”

The Scottish Government acknowledged on Friday that if non-alignment led to travellers to Scotland choosing to route through airports elsewhere in the UK, the public health benefits of testing “would be undermined in any event”.

Scottish Conservatives shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said: “This SNP climbdown will come as a relief to businesses in Scotland’s much overlooked tourism and aviation industries.

However, such a late U-turn means Scottish airports have missed out on any potential recovery that could have been made during the October break.

“The SNP-Green Government need to realise that this affects more than just holidaymakers and the aviation industry. Their slow decision will have had a damaging impact on jobs and businesses in Scotland.”

It was announced last week that green and amber classifications will merge from October 4 but the red list will be retained for those countries deemed to have high Covid-19 case rates or variants of concern.

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said earlier this week, however, that no firm date has been set for the removal of PCR testing for fully vaccinated travellers.

Asked when the policy will be implemented, Shapps told the Commons Transport Select Committee that the Department of Health and Social Care is “aware” of the dates of October half-term, which is a popular period for families to go on holiday.

Large queues at petrol stations amid fuel shortage panic

Drivers have been queuing at petrol stations across the country.

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Large queues have been forming at petrol stations across Scotland amid fears of a fuel shortage.

The scenes come despite assurances from the UK Government that drivers should continue to “fill up as normal”.

Delivery issues led to several garage closures throughout the country on Thursday.

Esso owner ExxonMobil said a “small number” of Tesco Alliance petrol forecourts have been impacted by disruption to petrol deliveries.

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BP told the UK Government in a meeting last Thursday that the company’s ability to transport fuel from refineries to its network of forecourts was faltering.

The Road Haulage Association and the AA have both tried to ease concerns by saying there will be enough fuel to go around and that the delivery issues, blamed on a shortage of HGV drivers, were consigned to a small number of areas.

But the advice failed to have the desired effect and on Friday as drivers could be seen queuing at stations in areas including Port Glasgow, Stirling and East Kilbride.

Others took to social media to document the crowds gathering at garages throughout Scotland.

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Twitter user Derek Geddes posted a picture of a garage packed out with several rows of cars waiting their turn.

Robert McCallion said: “It appears the “Don’t Panic Buy Fuel” message has worked a treat Massive queues at every petrol station from Wemyss Bay to Port Glasgow It’s all going well.”

And Ian Martin Tweeted: “In a very long queue at Tesco petrol in Port Glasgow. We’re in trouble aren’t we?”

On Thursday BP’s head of UK retail Hanna Hofer said it was important the Government understood the “urgency of the situation”, which she described as “bad, very bad”.


Yousaf hopes for improvements as army called in to drive ambulances

A total of 114 soldiers have been drafted in, with the first deployment of drivers expected to be behind the wheel from Sunday.

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Hopes: Yousaf hopes for 'significant improvement'.

Scotland’s Health Secretary expects the army’s help driving ambulances will result in a “significant improvement” in the waiting time crisis.

Military assistance was requested by the Scottish Government to help deal with deteriorating response times by the Scottish Ambulance Service, amid reports of patients dying and waiting in agony for hours before paramedics arrive.

A total of 114 soldiers have been drafted in, with the first deployment of drivers expected to be behind the wheel from Sunday.

Speaking during a visit to see soldiers being trained to drive the emergency vehicles, Humza Yousaf thanked the military for their help as he warned that the health service was facing its toughest winter yet.

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The Health Secretary pledged to “leave no stone unturned” as part of efforts to improve both the ambulance response times and increase capacity in Scotland’s hospitals.

He told the PA news agency: “There’s no silver bullet, we have to be upfront about that.

“I announced a range of actions, including asking for military assistance but, with that whole package put together, I would expect there to be a significant improvement.

“But I would be upfront with people too, this is going to be the most challenging winter I think the NHS has ever faced.”

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After meeting some of the soldiers being trained at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service base in Hamilton, Yousaf said: “I’m delighted to be here to thank the military personnel who really answered our call, with their support and their help.

“I’m delighted that the army responded in typical fashion and I wanted to come down personally to thank those military personnel who are getting the training today and they will be driving ambulances come Sunday.

“So this will help us, of course, with the challenges we’re facing in relation to the ambulance waits.”

Asked about wider issues in the health service, with record numbers of patients waiting beyond the four-hour target time in accident and emergency, Mr Yousaf reiterated plans for hospital ambulance liaison officers to help patients being transferred into A&E wards.

He added: “We’re investing, but we also have to be honest that we have had the biggest shock of the NHS in its 73-year history when it comes to the global pandemic.

“You can’t wave a magic wand, you can’t just simply magic those challenges away. So we’ll invest, we’ll leave no stone unturned and do what we can to improve the situation.”

The chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service, Pauline Howie, said pressure has been “mounting for a few months” but the request for additional support was only made two weeks ago.

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Ms Howie said: “As we’ve seen lockdown restrictions ease, we’ve seen demand start to rise.

“In the latest wave, unfortunately more of our staff have contracted Covid-19 again so we’ve lost some internal capability and that’s been the case across all health and social care staff.”

Colonel Anthony Phillips, the commander of joint military command for Scotland, said approximately two-thirds of the troops will be based in the Glasgow area and a third in the Edinburgh region, although they can be deployed elsewhere as required by the ambulance service.

Additional military planners will be working in the ambulance service’s regional hubs, while the army is also preparing to send troops to help with mobile coronavirus testing units.

He told the PA news agency: “This is 68 Squadron from 7 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps and this is their specialisation.

“They are a transport regiment and they’ve already worked in the east of England, and also the north east of England, so they  are experienced and they’ve had, like everybody, a busy 18 or 19 months.”

Colonel Phillips added: “Our commitment will be in the region of about two months.

“It is all conditions-based and if there is a requirement to look at that and extend, then that will be done in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence and the Scottish Government.”


Duke of York receives court papers over sex assault claims

The Queen's son has been accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl.

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Duke of York: Facing sexual assault claims.

The Duke of York has officially received court papers relating to a sexual assault lawsuit, US officials have confirmed.

The complainant, Virginia Giuffre, is seeking damages after alleging Andrew sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager, a claim he vehemently denies.

Her lawyers said earlier this month the duke had officially been served with the papers, but his legal team disputed the claim.

The issue of whether or not Andrew had been notified about the case – known as service of proceedings – was contested during the first pre-trial hearing of the civil case last week in New York.

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But it has now been confirmed the papers were served on September 21.

The duke has until October 29 to provide a response.

Ms Giuffre is suing the Queen’s son for allegedly sexually assaulting her when she was 17.

She is seeking unspecified damages, but there is speculation the sum could be in the millions of dollars.

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Court documents show that lawyers for both sides spoke on September 21 and the time for the duke to respond was extended.


Leigh Griffiths charged by police over ‘smoke bomb incident’

Dundee striker charged with 'culpable and reckless conduct' in connection with an alleged incident at Dens Park.

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Leigh Griffiths has joined Dundee on loan until the end of the season.

Dundee striker Leigh Griffiths has been charged with “culpable and reckless conduct” in relation to an alleged incident at Dens Park on Wednesday.

Griffiths has been accused of kicking a smoke bomb at St Johnstone fans during a Premier Sports Cup quarter-final clash.

Police were investigating the incident and on Friday they said a 31-year-old man had been charged.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Police Scotland can confirm that a 31-year-old man has been charged in relation to culpable and reckless conduct, following an incident at Dens Park, Dundee, on Wednesday, September 22.

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“A report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.”

Griffiths could also face action from the football authorities over the alleged incident but the Scottish FA are unlikely to begin disciplinary proceedings while a criminal case is active.


More than 100 high-end cars stolen by thieves using signal boosters

The cars have been taken from outside homes in Edinburgh, Forth Valley, East Lothian, Midlothian, West Lothian, Fife and Dundee.

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Warning: Police are advising motorists to store electric fobs in signal blocking equipment.

More than 100 high-end cars have been stolen from homes across parts of Scotland in recent months, with police warning thieves are using technology to open the cars without having to steal keys.

Police Scotland said that since May, 119 vehicles have been stolen from outside homes in Edinburgh, Forth Valley, East Lothian, Midlothian, West Lothian, Fife and Dundee.

The thieves have either broken into the house and stolen the car keys from near the front door or used a signal amplifying device to pick up the frequency of the car key from outside the home, meaning they can steal the car without breaking into the house.

Police are urging people with electric key fobs to buy signal-blocking storage to help prevent the crimes.

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The break-ins and thefts mainly occur either in the late evening or early morning, when the householders are in bed, and all are being investigated as part of Operation Greenbay.

Most thefts have taken place in Edinburgh, where 40 such cars were stolen, followed by 33 in the Lothians, 19 in Tayside, 16 in Fife and 11 in Forth Valley.

Detective Inspector Karen Muirhead said: “Whenever a housebreaking or vehicle theft occurs, it has a profound impact on the victims and as part of Operation Greenbay we are actively investigating all of these incidents to identify those responsible and reunite stolen cars with their rightful owners.

“Preventing these crimes happening in the first instance is our top priority and the public have a vital role to play in this.

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“I would urge all homeowners to consider what their current home security looks like and evaluate if it could be enhanced through the use of measures such as alarms, motion-activated lights and CCTV.”

She added: “For those with electric key fobs, please consider buying a faraday box or pouch, which blocks the signal from being detected and amplified to open and start your vehicle. At the very least, please do not leave keys near the door or entryway of your home.

“Following engagement with victims, we have established that many prefer to leave keys and valuables near doors so that in the event their homes are broken into, thieves do not venture further inside the property.

“In our experience, the likelihood of this occurring is extremely rare, with most criminals seeking an easy and quick grab, rather than having to search the entire house.”

She urged anyone with information on the crimes to contact police via 101 or alternatively make an anonymous report to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


Coronavirus: 50 deaths and 3667 fresh cases recorded overnight

A total of 1011 people were in hospital on Thursday with recently confirmed Covid-19.

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Covid-19: The fight to stem the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

A further 50 deaths and 3667 new cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Scotland overnight, according to official figures.

A total of 46,217 new tests were carried out, with 8.5% testing positive – up from the 8% reported the previously day.

Of the new cases reported on Friday, 855 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 566 are in Lothian, 524 are in Lanarkshire and 344 are in Ayrshire and Arran.

The rest of the cases are spread out across nine other health board areas.

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A total of 1011 people were in hospital on Thursday with recently confirmed Covid-19, 46 fewer overnight. Out of those, 79 patients are in intensive care.

The lab-confirmed death toll of those who tested positive within the previous 28 days currently stands at 8514, however figures including suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is now at least 10,826.

It was also confirmed that 4,168,278 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, an increase of 2222 from the day before.

A total of 3,820,182 people have received their second dose, a rise of 1754.

Legionella bacteria found in water supply at hospital

NHS Lanarkshire said routine water sampling had discovered the bacteria at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie.

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Monklands Hospital in Airdrie.

Patients have been assured that the risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease is “extremely low” after bacteria was found in the water supply at a hospital.

NHS Lanarkshire said routine water sampling had discovered legionella bacteria in the renal and endoscopy units at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie.

Filters have now been placed on basins and shower outlets in the units and in a ward served by the same water tank.

No patients are showing any signs of the disease.

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Susan Friel, nurse director for acute services at NHS Lanarkshire, said: “We are working closely with microbiology and facilities colleagues to put in place further steps following these results to ensure the safety of patients and staff.

“This includes sampling on a regular basis until we have a full set of negative samples, and filters remaining in place for as long as required.

“We want to reassure our patients and staff that the risk of contracting legionella disease with this particular strain is extremely low and the measures we have taken are precautionary while we continue to sample the water.”

She added that infection prevention and control measures are in place and no patients are showing signs of legionnaires disease, but staff will continue to monitor the situation in the coming days.

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Christina Coulombe, head of infection prevention and control at the health board, added: “There have been no toilets closed but handwashing facilities are out of commission as a precautionary measure while testing is ongoing.

“The option of portable sinks was discussed with staff and have now been provided in the areas requested by staff. Senior staff in all three areas can request further portable sinks by contacting facilities colleagues.”


Dad believes son was given ‘secret drugs’ due to hospital hygiene fears

David Campbell believes his son was given 'secret' supply of disease-prevention drugs while receiving treatment on cancer ward.

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Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow is at centre of inquiry.

The father of a boy being treated for cancer said he believes his child was given a “secret” supply of disease-prevention drugs amid a period of “covered-up” hospital-acquired infections at a children’s cancer ward.

David Campbell’s son was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer in August 2018 when he was four-years-old.

The boy was being treated in the Royal Hospital for Children (RHC) and Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) campus in Glasgow, which are at the centre of an inquiry into problems that contributed to the deaths of two children.

The inquiry was ordered after patients died from infections linked to pigeon droppings and the water supply.

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Mr Campbell told the inquiry his son was given a “cocktail” of antifungals and prophylactics as part of his cancer treatment “as a precaution in case anything should crop up”, before he was aware of the hospital hygiene concerns.

But after reading reports about water contamination at RHC in the media, he began to raise questions about the extra supply of antifungals to children in the cancer ward.

He told the inquiry he was not told about one of the drugs – posaconazole – being part of his son’s medical plan, adding “if I ever was, then it was not fully explained why and what the gravity of taking it would be”.

He said: “All we got was a generic handout put under the door to say that it was a medication that the children were going to be put on as protocol, it was better to be safe than sorry.”

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Mr Campbell said in hindsight he recognised the drug potentially helped his son fight off a hospital-acquired infection, but said his child should have been in a sterile and safe environment.

“It doesn’t make it right, giving them an anti-venom and letting the snake keep biting away at them,” he added:

“It’s absurd and that’s what they’ve done because in that environment it was all wrong.

“So they seem to think by giving them the prophylactics it made it acceptable.”

The inquiry heard Mr Campbell wrote to Jonathan Best, the chief operating officer at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC), on January 6 last year about his concerns over the “secret use of prophylactics and other environmental issues” at the hospital.

According to a statement from Mr Campbell, Mr Best replied saying that the health board was first aware of issues in the wards in 2018 and that the health board was “alarmed” to hear about children being put on prophylactics secretly, and that families should have been spoken to about it.

In response, Mr Campbell said NHSGGC’s claims it first knew of the water contamination issues in 2018 are “preposterous”.

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He told the inquiry: “I can’t fathom it at all.

“Especially after whistleblower evidence in 2017 from senior clinicians and people in respectable positions in the healthcare environment.

“So for the NHS chief operating officer to tell me that he had no idea up until 2018 is not only insulting, it’s offensive.”

He added: “There is a massive cover-up going on here, a web of deceit that can only be explained by their (health board) silence.

“It would give me a lot of closure if I could get my questions answered and move forward.”

In a closing statement to the inquiry, Mr Campbell said: “This Glasgow flagship hospital is where children were given cocktails of strong drugs to prevent them from dying – by this I don’t mean what was agreed by parents for their children to fight these life-threatening cancers – I mean the incredibly powerful anti-fungal medicine pumped into them to save their wee lives from the dangers of the building that was allegedly saving them.

“Does anyone understand how much fear that creates? That feeling of total helplessness knowing there is nowhere else to go.

“To be given a chance to fight cancer you need a fortress, our fortress was rotten from within.”

Earlier this year, an independent review found the deaths of two children at the QEUH campus were at least in part the result of infections linked to the hospital environment.

It found a third of these infections were “most likely” to have been linked to the hospital environment.

The inquiry in Edinburgh, chaired by Lord Brodie, continues. Health boards are due to give their evidence at a later date.


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