MSPs are demanding urgent action to improve monitoring for hospital-acquired infections in the wake of seven deaths this year, including three premature babies and a ten-year-old schoolboy.
In a letter issued today to health secretary Jeane Freeman, they note concern with the current system and say they have been unable to identify a “proactive approach” across Scotland’s health boards.
The three premature babies died at Glasgow’s Princess Royal Maternity Hospital after contracting the Staphylococcus aureus blood stream infection. The boy passed away after catching a fungal infection caused by pigeon droppings at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
It emerged yesterday that pigeons had been roosting inside a public area of the Vale of Leven Hospital in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire, and were removed by staff over the Easter weekend.
Concerns were also raised by MSPs over the maintenance backlog NHS Scotland faces, with a recent Audit Scotland report in 2017-18 saying the backlog of maintenance for the whole NHS estate is priced at £889 million.
This includes about 300 outstanding maintenance jobs at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which is less than four years old.
Delays in creating an independent national whistleblowing officer are also raised.
The health and sport committee received several submissions from persons who wished to remain anonymous, outlining fears about NHS environments and the issue of infection control.
The letter repeats earlier calls made by the committee for the introduction of a reporting line for NHS whistleblowers to tackle cultural concerns.
Committee convener Lewis Macdonald said: “The recent incidents of infection in Scotland’s hospitals will have been alarming for many members of the public.
“Although the evidence shows that the prevalence of health problems acquired as a consequence of the healthcare environment in Scotland is relatively low, the committee’s inquiry has shown there are several areas of concern.
“Most crucially, it is clear the current monitoring and surveillance methods are not adequate.
“Swift action must be taken to address these issues and we want to ensure proactive testing is undertaken so that incidents of infection are identified early to prevent outbreaks and reduce risk to patients to an absolute minimum.”
Other points raised in the letter include a need for clarity over the roles and responsibilities of the various watchdogs and a requirement for greater monitoring of NHS boards by external bodies with regards to risk assessment. The way infection risk is considered in the design and commissioning of new health facilities was also raised.
There is also a need for the development of electronic surveillance systems at a national level to improve intelligence and a shortage of staff in cleaning and infection control teams as well as microbiology across NHS boards.
The MSPs highlighted concerns raised over perceptions of the independence of the review into Queen Elizabeth University Hospital given the chairs of the review group were both former NHS Scotland employees.
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon said public confidence in the safety of Scotland’s hospitals had been “shaken” after the infection outbreaks.
She said: “The health and sport committee are right to raise serious questions over the adequacy of infection monitoring within Scotland’s NHS.
“The health secretary, Jeane Freeman, must provide urgent clarity to the committee and to Parliament over what action she is taking to improve monitoring and surveillance of infections, especially given that the committee hasn’t been able to identify a proactive approach to either within the current system.” Meanwhile, Health Protection Scotland (HPS) has today published its Healthcare Associated Infections (HAI) annual report.
Laura Imrie, interim lead consultant at Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infection Group said: “The publishing of this report demonstrates HPS’s commitment to the prevention and control of infections in all care settings.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The recent infection incidents have had a devastating impact on the families involved and we sympathise with all those affected.
“That’s why we are clear that all health boards must make infection prevention and control an absolute priority each and every day.”