Child’s hospital death ‘linked to contaminated water’


Queen Elizabeth University Hospital

The death of a child cancer patient has been linked to a contaminated water supply at Scotland’s largest hospital, a whistleblower has claimed.

Labour MSP Anas Sarwar described the allegations, which relate to a case from 2017, as a “scandal”.

The Daily Record reports a probe uncovered the infection link but the child’s parents were not told about it.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGCC) insisted tests have shown the water supply is safe.

The health board also said its “overriding priority” is the safety of its patients.

Mr Sarwar raised the matter during First Minister’s Questions.

He told MSPs: “This isn’t just a scandal, it’s a heartbreaking human tragedy.”

Fungus scare

Last September two wards at the Royal Hospital for Children were closed and patients moved to the adjoining Queen Elizabeth University Hospital as Health Protection Scotland (HPS) investigated water contamination incidents.

An HPS investigation found 23 cases of blood stream infections with organisms potentially linked to water contamination were identified between 29 January and 26 September, 2018.

The Daily Record reports a clinician-led team at NHSGGC investigated further back than 2018.

The whistleblower who contacted Mr Sarwar claimed this investigation found up to 26 cases of water supply infections in children in the cancer wards in 2017, and that one child with cancer died after contracting an infection.

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Labour MSP Anas Sarwar described the allegations as a ‘scandal’

In March a report found some areas of the hospital cannot be cleaned properly because they are awaiting repair work.

The inspection was ordered by Ms Freeman after patients became infected with a fungus linked to pigeon faeces.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGCC) insisted its “overriding priority” is the safety of its patients, and that tests have shown the water supply is safe.

The Glasgow MSP has called for a “full public apology”.

Mr Sarwar said: “I have had information shared with me which shows that senior managers have been repeatedly alerted to the fact that a previous review failed to include cases of infection related to the water supply in 2017.

“Central to this whistleblowing evidence is that one child died and, to this day, the parents have never been told the true cause of their child’s death. That isn’t just a scandal, it is a heart-breaking human tragedy.”

Patient safety

Mr Sarwar said he has had difficult information shared with him before but this case “felt different”.

He added: “I immediately imagined how I would feel if that was my child, if I was that parent. I would want to know – I would expect answers.”

Mr Sarwar raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions and called on Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to personally intervene.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Patient safety is paramount and that’s exactly why the Health Secretary commissioned the independent review into the design, build, commissioning and maintenance of the QEUH and its also why, on 18 September, a public inquiry into the issues at the hospital and the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh was announced.

“We are determined to address the concerns of patients and families and the Health Secretary is committed to returning to Parliament to set out the full details of the public inquiry as soon as possible.”

‘Extremely disappointing’

An NHSGGC spokesman said: “When a patient dies in our care, our clinical teams discuss with family members the cause of death and the factors that have contributed to this, where they are known.

“Patients who are very sick are prone to infections and we closely monitor all infections to ensure patients are appropriately cared for. “

He said that two individual cases of Stenotrophomonas were investigated in 2017 which were not linked and those were reported to Health Protection Scotland and the NHSGGC Board.

The cases were reviewed again in July 2019 when the clinical view was taken that no further action was required.

He added: “At the time of the initial investigation into these cases, national guidance did not include a requirement for health boards to test for Stenotrophomonas in the water supply.

“As no tests were carried out at the time, it is not possible to conclude that these infections were connected to the water supply.  It is extremely disappointing therefore that a whistleblower has made this claim causing additional distress to families and to other families of cancer patients.”


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