Doctors and nurses at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) are being used as a “human shield” to protect Glasgow’s health board over the infection scandal, Anas Sarwar has said.
Bereaved families of patients who died after being infected at the hospital also warned that tragedies would continue unless the leadership of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) is replaced.
Scottish Labour has called for the senior management of NHSGGC to be sacked, accusing it of a “culture of secrecy, of cover-ups and denials” in connection with the infections, although a motion declaring no confidence in the health board leadership was rejected by the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.
Whistle-blowing health workers revealed that water-borne bacteria infected an estimated 84 children at the QEUH’s Royal Hospital for Children, including the late Milly Main, 10, who had been in remission from leukaemia.
Three years later, Scottish Government official Andrew Slorance also died at the QEUH after cancer treatment and having caught Covid-19.
But it was only after his widow Louise requested the medical notes that she discovered Mr Slorance has also been treated for an infection caused by the aspergillus fungus, something that had not been discussed with either of them during his hospital stay.
The health board said it has been “open and honest”, although Ms Slorance and Milly’s mother Kimberly Darroch say there has been an “erosion of trust” and “continued secrecy”.
Joining Mr Sarwar at a press conference ahead of a Holyrood debate on the future of NHSGGC, both women praised the frontline staff at the hospital but said the health board bosses must resign or be sacked.
Ms Slorance said it will be a year on Sunday since her husband died and she told reporters she believes doctors and nurses were “restrained” from telling them about the aspergillus infection.
She added: “I think the Scottish Government now need to show whose side they’re on, whether it’s ours or the health board management team.”
Ms Darroch revealed she was “really angry” to hear about further infections at the QEUH, and said: “We have worked tirelessly to stop this from happening again and that was my main focus after Milly died.
“The main reason that I came into public life was so that no family had to go through what I went through.
“That hasn’t happened, it’s continued to happen and it will continue to happen until something is done about the leadership of the health board.”
Mr Sarwar said that two years on from him raising the issue – and with more cases emerging – the health board continue to be guilty of “the exact same spin, the exact same lies, the exact same attempt to use staff as a human shield, the exact same attempts to ridicule and silence clinicians and whistleblowers, and the exact same way to play with the emotions of the family”.
Speaking ahead of a debate on the issue at Holyrood on Wednesday, he said: “These are not isolated cases, these are not isolated incidences.
“There is a systemic problem and we’ll only be able to address that systemic problem if we have a leadership that is willing to get a grip of it rather than trying to manage it away.”
On Tuesday evening, 23 senior clinicians complained to Nicola Sturgeon about “unfounded criticism” of clinical teams and staff.
In a letter to the First Minister and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, they wrote: “As NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde clinicians and clinical leaders, we write to express our immense disappointment and frustration about the way in which our hospitals, our colleagues and the treatment of our patients is being portrayed in the press and the chamber of the Scottish Parliament.
“As we prepare for a challenging winter, this sustained criticism of our staff is undoubtedly causing them distress and worry.
“This unfounded criticism of our clinical teams and staff, as well as the safety of our hospitals, is also hugely detrimental to staff morale at a time when so much is being asked of them.”
But in response, Mr Sarwar said: “To be blunt about this. I don’t care about the number of letters that might be sent to me or the number of attacks that might come from other politicians.
“I have picked my side.
“My side is with the families and the staff and those that have lost loved ones, and I will not stop.
“Let me say this directly to the Scottish Government, to the health board and to anybody else that’s listening: I will not stop, I will not rest, I will remain on the side of these families until justice is delivered, we get the answers, and those that are responsible for this are held to account.
“No ifs, no buts, no maybes.
“This is personal for these families, this is personal for the staff and I think it’s important that the Scottish Government now demonstrates whose side they are on.”
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