Investigation after deaths linked to hospital drips

Picture: Greg Macvean
Picture: Greg Macvean
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Scottish hospitals have been told to investigate whether any of their patients have died after being given a drip used to treat trauma victims.

Health secretary Alex Neil said he had ordered an inquiry after hydroxyethyl starch drips were withdrawn after being linked to unnecessary deaths.

A report suggested the drips, often used to treat critically ill patients with the blood infection sepsis, or patients with burns or car crash injuries, could be linked to 250 deaths a year in the UK.

Mr Neil said he had instructed health boards to find out how many patients had been given the drips in Scotland and whether they had survived. So far, no reports have been received of any patients dying as a result of using the starch drips.

Yesterday Mr Neil said: “I am concerned about the impact of the use of these starch drips and that is why I have asked all of our territorial health boards to undertake an urgent exercise to establish the prescribing levels of starch and whether any patients receiving the starch have had adverse side-effects as a result.

“From the responses received so far, I am not aware at this time of any deaths linked to the use of hydroxyethyl.”

Mr Neil said the Scottish Government was continuing to engage with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), who act on behalf of the UK on drug safety issues. “However, if a patient or their family has any concerns about the care they have received, they should contact their local NHS board,” he said.

Last week, it emerged hospitals across the UK had withdrawn the starch drips after the MHRA ruled that benefits no longer outweighed the risks.

The drips are used to treat low blood volume or a steep drop in blood pressure. They can also be used to maintain circulation during surgical procedures as an alternative to saline drips.

The German-based companies B Braun and Fresenius Kabi, which supply the NHS, are recalling all UK stock of the starch drips.

The decision followed recommendations from European authorities after recent studies associated them with a greater risk of mortality or injury to the kidneys.

In an interview, Mr Neil also suggested that Scotland should take over the role of the MHRA to react to problems such as the starch drips more quickly.

However, an MHRA spokesman said: “The UK has been involved in a thorough EU-wide review of the risks and benefits of HES (Hydroxyethyl Starch) which has evaluated all the available data and taken advice from experts in the field.

“As soon as the review concluded that the risks of HES outweighed the benefits, we sought expert advice from the Commission on Human Medicines and took national action to suspend HES products.

“We were the first regulator to take this action.”

Concerns about the starch drips were first raised earlier this year in a report which warned that the starch-based fluids could be causing around 250 unnecessary deaths every year in the UK.