FMQs: Senior Glasgow doctor warns claims doctors ‘act in secret or conceal information’ could damage public confidence as Andrew Slorance widow claims details of husband’s death were covered up

One of Scotland’s largest health boards has denied doctors "act in bad faith, in secret or attempt to conceal information" as the widow of a government official claimed details of her husband’s illness were concealed by a hospital at the centre of a public inquiry.

Dr Scott Davidson, deputy medical director at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, refuted claims made in Holyrood on Thursday around the death of Andrew Slorance and warned the allegations could “damage the public’s confidence” in medical care.

The comments came after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would “not tolerate cover-ups or secrecy”, after Louise Slorance said she had only found out her husband, who was being treated for cancer at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH), had picked up a deadly fungal infection after trawling through his medical records.

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A separate statement from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the health board “did not recognise” the claims being made in relation to Mr Slorance’s death.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Fraser Bremner-Pool/Getty Images

Dr Davidson said: “My heart goes out to Mr Slorance’s wife and loved ones as they continue to mourn his loss. We are reaching out to the family and very much hope they will take up our offer to discuss their concerns.

“On some of the wider claims being made, there should be no doubt that as clinicians, our primary aim is to provide professional care and treatment for our patients and support their loved ones.

"We don’t act in bad faith or attempt to conceal information and that applies equally across the organisation to all of our staff, both clinical and non-clinical, and to suggest otherwise is not acceptable and has caused considerable upset to all of our hard-working and committed staff.”

He added: “It is also of concern to us, as clinicians, that this could damage the public’s confidence in the quality of care we provide. I hope that by meeting with the family, we can explain in detail the care provided to Mr Slorance, answer any questions they may have and provide some comfort going forward.”

Andrew Slorance did in 2020.

Speaking earlier at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon described Mr Slorance as someone she knew “very well” and a “greatly valued member of the Scottish Government team”.

She said the chief operating officer of NHS Scotland had raised the claims with NHS Great Glasgow and Clyde.

Mr Slorance, who was head of the Scottish Government’s response and communication unit, went into hospital to be treated for cancer in October last year.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar described the failings at the hospital as the “worst scandal of the devolution era”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “First of all, I can assure the chamber that I have read Louise's words very closely.

"Firstly, because I will always do that, when relatives of those who have died or received substandard care in our National Health Service, because that's part of my duty. But in this case obviously I have done that because Andrew was someone I knew very well.

"He is deeply missed by everyone who had the privilege of working with him and that certainly includes me.

"I think I first met Andrew on the very first day I served in government back in 2007. He made an exceptional contribution to the Scottish Government and my thoughts are often with his loved ones, in particular his wife and his children.

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"My officials have engaged already this morning with Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board, so that the concerns that have been raised are properly investigated.

"We will do everything possible to ensure his family get the answers that they are seeking and also consider very carefully whether the concerns that have been raised by Louise Slorance have raised wider issues that require to be addressed.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “The chief operating officer of NHS Scotland has contacted Greater Glasgow and Clyde this morning to start to establish the facts and I've asked for information to be available later today and then we will assess what further steps required to be taken.

"I will not – this government will not – tolerate cover-ups or secrecy on the part of any health board. Where there are concerns about that we will address those concerns.”

During his time in hospital, Mr Slorance tested positive for Covid-19 and another life-threatening infection, both of which his widow believes he contracted while at QEUH.

The 49-year-old had been fighting a rare and incurable cancer – mantle cell lymphoma – for the previous five years.

Mrs Slorance only discovered the fact her husband had been infected with the common fungus, aspergillus, which can be dangerous if it infects those with a weaker immune system, when she requested a copy of his medical records.

A public inquiry is underway to investigate the construction of the QEUH campus in Glasgow and the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People and Department of Clinical Neurosciences in Edinburgh.

The inquiry was ordered after patients at the Glasgow hospital died from infections linked to pigeon droppings and the water supply, and the opening of the Edinburgh site was delayed due to concerns over the ventilation system.

Mr Sarwar said there was a culture of “cover-up, denial, and families being failed” in the Queen Elizabeth hospital.

He said: “From start to finish, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital scandal has happened under Nicola Sturgeon’s watch. She was health secretary when the hospital was commissioned and built.

“And she was First Minister when it was opened. So she must answer why, despite everything that has happened, do we still have a culture of cover-up, secrecy and denial with families being forced to take on the system to get the truth?

“The Glasgow health board leadership has lost the confidence of clinicians, patients, parents and the public. Given everything that has already happened, and everything that has already been uncovered, why is the leadership still in place?”

Mr Sarwar added: “Not a single person has been held accountable for the catastrophic errors at this hospital. In any other country in the world, there would be resignations and sackings. But under this government it’s denial and cover-up.

“How many more families have to lose loved ones before anyone is held to account?”

A statement from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies remain with the family of Mr Slorance.

"At all times we have been open and honest with the family about the treatment provided and we are reaching out to them to further discuss the issues they have raised. After an initial clinical review, we are confident that the care and treatment provided was appropriate and we do not recognise the claims being made.”

“Infection control procedures at the QEUH are rigorous and of the highest standard. The hospitals’ public inquiry is currently underway and we have been providing every support to the inquiry team and will continue to do so.

"We are also providing support to both patients and staff throughout the process.”

Mr Slorance, a former journalist, was the first head of media relations for the Scottish Parliament after its creation in 1999 and was Alex Salmond’s official spokesman between 2007 and 2010.

In 2012, he joined the government’s resilience division as head of the response and communications unit responsible for responding to and planning for major emergencies.

Mr Slorance was first diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma in 2015, but the disease had recently returned. He had been due to undergo a stem cell transplant, but the procedure was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He wrote a popular blog about his battle with the disease and raised a significant amount of money for cancer charities – most recently a 300-mile cycle challenge, which he undertook just months before his death.

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