Glasgow hospital baby deaths source may ‘never be known’, admits health chief

The chief of medicine, women’s and children’s services at a crisis hit health board where two babies died after contracting an infection has said the source of the outbreak may never be known.

Dr Alan Mathers at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has said the two babies who died were amongst the “most vulnerable patients” in the country.

The children died after contracting the staphylococcus aureus bacterium at the Princess Royal Maternity 

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A third baby in the unit is receiving treatment after also contracting the blood stream infection but Dr Mathers said the child is “not giving us any cause for concern at all”.

Control measures were immediately put in place after the cases. Picture: John Devlin

An incident management team has been set up to investigate three cases of the Staphylococcus infection at the hospital’s neonatal unit.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions Nicola Sturgeon said she wanted to “put on record my heartfelt and sincere condolences to the parents of the two babies who died”.

Scottish Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw - who is filling in for Ruth Davidson while she is on maternity leave – asked her about the case, saying: “Patients and families need to have confidence that when a case like this emerges, everything, is done to minimise the spread of infection any further.”

He pressed Ms Sturgeon on when Scottish ministers had been made aware of the deaths, noting the investigation began on January 24.

Jeane Freeman. Picture: John Devlin

The First Minister said: “The health secretary [Jeane Freeman] became aware of these infections, I understand, on Monday of this week, and at that point asked for assurances.” Since then, she said Ms Freeman had been “in regular contact with the health board”.

Prosecutors are continuing to look at two deaths at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

A ten-year-old boy and a 73-year-old woman died after contracting the Cryptococcus infection, which is linked to pigeon droppings.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The important thing of course is all of us ensure that not just in Greater Glasgow health board, but all health boards, that proper infection control procedures are in place and the Health Secretary and her officials are taking all appropriate steps to ensure that is the case.”

Following the deaths of the two premature babies, she said the hospital had stepped up their regular screening and had put enhanced cleaning schedules in place.

Experts at Health Protection Scotland have also been asked to investigate and report on what happened, the First Minister said.

She added: “Staphylococcus aureus is unfortunately not an uncommon infection in people in hospital, including neonatal babies, and indeed that infection can be found in around one in four people.

“So that makes it all the more important hospitals have in place rigorous infection control procedures.”

Jason Leitch, national clinical director at NHS Scotland, said there is “no better place in the western world” for premature babies to be cared for than in Scotland’s neonatal units.

He added: “These units are safe and if your baby is premature and requires intensive care, this is exactly the place you want your baby to be.”

Cases of the Staphylococcus aureus infection in the NHS in Scotland have fallen by 93 per cent in the last ten years, he added.