By Susan Ripoll & Jenness Mitchell
The heartbroken family of a baby who died after contracting an infection at a crisis-hit ‘super hospital’ said they are still fighting for answers more than two years on.
Sophia Smith was just two weeks old when she died after contracting a toxic strain of MRSA within the neonatal intensive care unit at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in April 2017.
Parents Theresa and Matthew Smith told STV News that they’ve “plumbed the depths of hell with our grief and there’s no sign in it letting up because we still don’t have answers”.
The Inverclyde couple want to know how their daughter contracted an infection in one of the “most important parts of the hospital” and have claimed they were told by a clinician it was just “bad luck”.
Mr and Mrs Smith have also been left “traumatised” over the way their baby’s body was presented to them.
Mrs Smith said: “She had a mortuary sticker right across her upper chest with numbers on it and things, and I would liken it to what you would see a butcher slap on a big rack of meat and that’s how our daughter was handed to us, literally with a sticker across her chest, and I found that really, really traumatising, really horrific.”
Sophia had been transferred to the QEUH from the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley due to breathing difficulties at birth.
She had been making significant improvements with her parents expecting her to make a full recovery, but then she quickly deteriorated.
The couple were left in “utter shock” when they were called back to the ward in the middle of the night.
Mrs Smith said: “She was well, she was coming home and I think really to be honest we were literally sitting quite dumbfounded, shell shocked, just couldn’t take in what was happening and how quickly it was happening.”
Sophia’s final moments were heartbreaking for the couple.
Mr Smith said: “Sophia was taken out of her cot and passed into Theresa’s arms and died within a matter of minutes in her arms – being the first time that she had ever held her – and to this day the most traumatic and the thing that we relive the most probably, something that will never leave either of us.”
The couple claim the hospital attempted to pressure them into signing a death certificate in the hours following Sophia’s death.
They instead asked for a post-mortem and said they had to push to get the results, which confirmed that Sophia had contracted staphylococcus aureus.
The couple said they were told by officials it was “bad luck”.
Mr Smith said: “We couldn’t fathom how in a neonatal intensive care unit there would be any viruses, any toxic, severely toxic viruses in such an important part of the hospital and we had even more questions than answers – although that was the answer, if that makes sense.”
The couple want their daughter’s death to be included within the public inquiry into the hospital.
The health secretary announced she had ordered an inquiry into issues at the QEUH and the delayed Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh in September.
Jeane Freeman said she had “announced this independent public inquiry following concerns, including from parents and families, over the quality of our NHS major infrastructure, its safety and compliance with standards and the impact that has on the delivery of healthcare to patients”.
Last week, the Scottish Government announced it would provide additional support to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) following the deaths of two children on a ward affected by water contamination.
The health board was escalated to stage four of the NHS Board Performance Escalation Framework in response to ongoing issues relating to infection prevention, management and control at the QEUH and the Royal Hospital for Children (RHC).
Although Sophia’s death is not linked to water contamination and happened on another ward, her parents said they will fight on until they get an answer.
Mr Smith said: “It’s probably the last thing as parents that we can do for her.
“She was a wee fighter and she tried her best for us and we owe it to her.”
Mrs Smith added: “It’s the last act of love we’ve got to give is to try and find out how and why she died, and if that infection continues, if there are other families affected like us.
“Our lives have been destroyed and I don’t think we’ll ever be the same again and our grief will never lessen.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The death of any child is a tragedy and we would like to extend our deepest sympathies to Theresa and Matthew Smith, who have undoubtedly suffered an immense amount of pain and suffering throughout this sad and difficult time.
“Families with concerns should talk to their care team directly and we have been clear that we stand ready to support anyone who feels that they are not being listened to.
“We expect all families to receive answers to any questions they might have immediately, then on an ongoing basis, and to be treated with respect, compassion and dignity throughout the entire process.”
NHSGGC has been contacted for comment.