Around 80 infections to be reviewed at children’s hospital

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said she was giving NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde 'one final chance'.

Royal Hospital for Children. <strong>Google 2017</strong>
Royal Hospital for Children. Google 2017

Experts are to review around 80 cases where children may have contracted infections at the Royal Hospital for Children (RCH), the health secretary has announced.

Jeane Freeman said all infections in the paediatric haemato-oncology ward at the Glasgow hospital since it opened in 2015 would be covered.

The health board would be given “one final chance” to assure families and “respond appropriately” after an infections scandal at its flagship hospital campus, she said.

She said she expected NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) to make sure families are informed where “infections that may have caused harm or, in the worst cases, may have been the cause of death”.

The health secretary also announced two paediatric cancer wards at the RCH that closed in 2018 will not reopen till this summer at the earliest.

Freeman, who recently escalated action against NHS bosses at Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said she had not ruled out taking the health board to level five – meaning it would be deemed to be “unable to deliver effective care” and requiring ministerial intervention.

A five-stage scale is used in Scotland to show the level of oversight for stricken health boards – NHSGGC is currently at stage four.

The hospital is part of the £842m Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) campus, which Holyrood heard has been “plagued” by “complaints, crises and tragedies” since it opened in 2015.

Concerns continue about infections at the hospital, with the parents of ten-year-old Millie Main, whose death after beating cancer has been linked to an infection caused by contaminated water, demanding a fatal accident inquiry.

With so many cases to be looked at, Freeman said a phased approach would be taken, starting with patients who were treated in 2017.

She pledged all families would be given a face to face report once the reviews are complete.

Freeman told MSPs: “I have a clear priority to make sure families are given the answers they need about their children’s time in the hospital – particularly about infections that may have caused harm or, in the worst cases, may have been the cause of death.”

The work will be led by Professor Mike Stevens, of the University of Bristol, and Gaynor Evans, NHS Improvement England’s Clinical lead for the Gram-negative Bloodstream Infection Programme.

The health secretary added: “The first set of reviews will be completed during February.

“The review team considers that there are likely to be around 80 cases to be examined, but they will continue to keep this assessment under review.”

Freeman has already announced a public inquiry will take place to examine issues at the QEUH site and the delayed Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.

The remit for that is now at “an advanced stage”, she said.

She told how refurbishment work was being carried out at the two paediatric cancer wards at the RCH to “make good the problems identified in 2018 and to bring them up to the highest standards”.

The health board has planned for this to be completed “in the summer of this year”, Freeman added, saying patients would move back in when they are “fully ready and meet all required standards”.

The health secretary insisted “significant work is under way to address the legitimate concerns that have been raised”.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said it “remains a worrying time for many families and patients”.

Lennon said: “Families and staff, whistle-blowers, have feared a cover-up of the many complaints, crises and tragedies that have plagued the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital since it opened in 2015.

“It is only now in 2020 we are beginning to see serious action being taken.”

Freeman said it had been “an unnecessarily worrying time for families and for staff” as she confirmed she had not ruled out taking further action against the health board.

But she added: “I am giving Greater Glasgow and Clyde one final chance to respond appropriately and show they understand what they need to do here.”

Glasgow Labour MSP Anas Sarwar said changes were needed among the leadership team at the troubled health board.

“The action being taken by the Scottish Government is a step in the right direction and greater oversight and management is welcome,” he said.

“But we still haven’t dealt with the heart of the problem. Those responsible for creating this mess can’t be the ones to fix it.

“The health board leadership has lost the trust of patients, parents and the public – and those in charge must be removed.”