Glasgow health board placed under special measures over water infection crisis
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has been placed under special measures over “ongoing issues relating to infection prevention, management and control” at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH), the Scottish Government has confirmed.
The health board has been escalated to stage four of the NHS Board Performance Escalation Framework, which means senior level external support is required due to “significant risks to delivery, quality, financial performance or safety”.
The government said the action was “necessary” to support the board and “increase public confidence in these matters”. A government-led oversight board will be introduced to “strengthen current measures already in place to mitigate avoidable harms”.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman wrote to the Health and Sport Committee advising them of the escalation and informing them the oversight board would be chaired by chief nursing officer Professor Fiona McQueen.
“In light of the on-going issues around the systems, processes and governance in relation to infection prevention, management and control at the QEUH and the RHC [Royal Hospital for Children] and the associated communication and public engagement issues, I have concluded that further action is necessary to support the board to ensure appropriate governance is in place to increase public confidence in these matters and therefore that for this specific issue the board will be escalated to stage four of our performance framework,” she wrote.
“This stage is defined as ‘significant risks to delivery, quality, financial performance or safety; senior level external transformational support required’.
“The intention of the escalation would ensure appropriate governance is in place to increase public confidence and strengthen current approaches that are in place to mitigate avoidable harms.
“I will keep parliament updated on the role of the oversight board and the actions that it is taking, as the work progresses.”
Freeman said she had written to the Glasgow health board and had copied the letter to each of the party spokespeople on health, as well as MSP for Glasgow Anas Sarwar.
The escalation comes after Sarwar raised issues around infections at the hospital during last week’s First Minister’s Questions. He said he’d been informed by a whistleblower of 26 infections at QEUH children’s cancer ward in 2017 possibly connected to the water supply and “in one case a child died as a result”.
On Friday afternoon, Sarwar said Freeman’s decision was “the correct course of action”.
“The Glasgow health board is not fit for purpose, and this is a necessary step following the unforgiveable failings of senior management,” he said.
“The focus now must be to tell parents, patients and the public the truth about infections at the hospital. I pay tribute to the brave whistleblowers who came forward to shine a light on the catastrophic failings in the hope that nothing like this can ever happen again.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said increasing the level of scruting around the board's operation was “the right thing to do”.
“The public would expect it following the tragic and potentially avoidable deaths of young children, and the manner in which this has been investigated. Families are in need of reassurance that their loved ones will be cared for in safe facilities. This has caused people with operations or hospital stays on the horizon to be more anxious.”
The Scottish Conservatives said this now meant “more than a third of mainland health boards are at the second highest stage of escalation”.
The Glasgow health board joins NHS Tayside, NHS Highland and NHS Borders at the stage four level. NHS Lothian is also at stage four “for specific issues relating to the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People” and at stage three for performance issues.
Earlier the week, Freeman was criticised by opposition parties for failing to announce the health board would be escalated in a statement to Scottish Parliament. Instead, she said she had asked the “process of escalation be taken forward as quickly as possible” and told MSPs “I will not be rushed into wrong decisions simply to satisfy members of this chamber”.