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by Tom Freeman
21 March 2019
NHS Lothian sparks fears over heart valve infections after surgery

Cardiac CT scan - Thomas F Heston

NHS Lothian sparks fears over heart valve infections after surgery

NHS Lothian has written to 186 patients who have had a heart operation in the last six months warning that they may have picked up an infection during surgery.

The health board said it had written to all patients who have had a heart aortic valve replacement to advise them of a possible risk, after six patients had contracted “unusual infections”.

“Of the small number of patients affected, sadly some later died,” the board.

Four operations are understood to have been cancelled this week to allow for intensive cleaning of the operating theatres.

Professor Alex McMahon, NHS Lothian Executive Lead for Infection Control said: "We extend our sincere apologies and deepest condolences to the families of the patients who died, all of whom were informed at the time of their treatment that they had an unusual and difficult to treat infection.”

McMahon acknowledged the letter to other patients would be worrying.

"We have contacted patients purely as a precaution,” he said.

“The risk is very low and we do not anticipate any more cases, however we know that it can take up to six months for these infections to materialise.  We want to make sure those patients know what symptoms to be aware of and to contact NHS Inform if they have any concerns. 

“Many patients receiving this type of surgery are already very ill and vulnerable to infection so we place the highest importance on a stringent infection prevention and control regime.

“We are very sorry for the inconvenience and disappointment caused to the patients who have had their procedures cancelled this week but we must prioritise patient safety above all else. All those affected will be given new appointments as soon as possible.”

Hospital infections have risen up the agenda in recent weeks after the death of a 10-year-old boy at Glasgow’s super hospital the Queen Elizabeth.

Lib Dem Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Tragically for a handful of families these infections were caught too late. We need to know why these infections occurred so as to prevent further outbreaks in the future.

“The Health Secretary must liaise with NHS Lothian and assess whether a similar investigation to the one being conducted by NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde will need to take place.”

In an earlier response to questions on cuts to cleaning and support staff from Labour leader Richard Leonard at FMQs, Nicola Sturgeon said: “We will continue to raise issues directly with health boards to ensure that they are addressed where that is necessary. Notwithstanding the very serious incidents at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, which we have discussed on many occasions in the chamber before—and I welcome the Health and Sport Committee’s inquiry into these issues—infection rates are down considerably in Scottish hospitals overall.”

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