Scotland’s health secretary has stopped short of placing the crisis-hit Glasgow health board on special measures after revelations about the deaths of two children who were treated on a ward affected by water contamination.
In a statement to Holyrood on Wednesday, Jeane Freeman apologised directly to the parents of the children involved, saying they deserved to have their questions answered, and she described the board’s communication with families as “simply not good enough”.
But she insisted: “I will not be rushed into wrong decisions simply to satisfy members of this chamber.”
The case of 10-year-old Milly Main, who died in August 2017 after contracting an infection as she recovered from leukaemia treatment, was raised at first minister’s questions last week by Anas Sarwar, a Scottish Labour MSP.
Milly was treated in a ward at Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Children that was subsequently closed because of infection concerns. Her mother has said she feels “let down and lied to” by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
Citing information provided to him by a whistleblower, Sarwar disclosed that a doctor-led review had identified 26 infections at the hospital, part of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus, that were potentially connected to problems with the water supply during 2017.
Sarwar also revealed that the girl’s parents had not been told about the possible link. Milly’s mother, Kimberly Darroch, told BBC Scotland she was “100%” convinced her daughter’s death was linked to water contamination and that the health board was covering up the truth.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has offered to meet the family to discuss their concerns but said it was not possible to determine the source of their daughter’s infection because there was no requirement for water testing at the time.
Pressure on the board intensified on Sunday when it emerged that Police Scotland were investigating the death of three-year-old Mason Djemat, who died a few weeks before Milly on the same ward while he was receiving treatment for a rare genetic condition.
Responding to Freeman’s statement on Wednesday, Sarwar said: “Given the seriousness of what has happened and the frankly insulting public statements, this health board should have been put into special measures. The health board has lost the confidence of all concerned.”
He said the statement would disappoint parents and staff but he welcomed Freeman’s support for whistleblowers. The health board previously accused the whistleblower who contacted Sarwar of “causing additional distress to families”.
Freeman told MSPs: “There is no room in our health service for anyone to criticise whistleblowers, publicly or otherwise, or to put them in fear for the safety of their jobs. We need to recognise that whistleblowing is not something people who have dedicated their lives to healthcare do lightly. It takes courage and they should be thanked.”
Freeman announced a public inquiry into hospital building flaws in September and told Holyrood’s health committee on Tuesday that she expected it to take evidence on water contamination.
The inquiry will also consider safety issues at the new £150m children’s hospital in Edinburgh, whose opening was delayed after final inspections revealed serious concerns about its ventilation system.