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Glasgow hospital killer fungal infection blamed on helicopter landings

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow
Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow

Glasgow’s health board blamed helicopters for stirring up pigeon droppings at a hospital where two patients died after contracting a fungal infection linked to bird excrement.

NHS chiefs said choppers using a helipad on the roof of Queen Elizabeth University Hospital had whisked up avian faecal matter later found in the ventilation system connected to wards where patients with compromised immune systems were being treated.

The claims about helicopters made by NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde (NHSGGC) on January 23 fly in the face of the health minister’s statement the previous day that the source was bacteria from pigeon droppings found in the hospital’s plant room.

Miles Briggs MSP, shadow health secretary, said: “These revelations seem to suggest NHS staff were concerned about the infection potential of the helipad. There seems to be confusion in the NHS over the potential risk of contamination.”

There was no mention of helicopters in a report by inspectors who were sent in to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital when it emerged in January that a 10-year-old boy and 73-year-old woman died after contracting cryptococcus, a fungal infection linked to pigeon droppings.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said this week it was clear from the inspection report that NHS staff were being “let down by managers who are not acting on issues that frontline staff are pointing out need to be addressed”.

But NHSGGC bosses blamed helicopters in a call to health boards.

In an email to NHS Grampian’s director of facilities Paul Allen, the head of maintenance and technical services said: “They (NHSGGC) said their helipad is a factor in as much that choppers landing and taking off creates an issue where avian faecal matter gets whisked up and scattered potentially towards ventilation.”

The email was sent on January 23 the day after health Secretary Jeane Freeman told Parliament the source of the infection was pigeon excrement in a plant room on the twelfth floor.

A spokeswoman for NHSGGC said: “There are a number of hypotheses including the plant room and the helipad. We also contacted other health boards to discuss associated matters.”