The outbreak across five sites in NHS Lothian including the region’s flagship Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh was identified on 16 August and has been ongoing since then with a specialist problem assessment group in place to monitor the problem.
More than 20 staff have been infected and anyone who thinks they have had skin-on-skin contact with a contagious person at the hospital sites is given skin cream and effectively “quarantined” from seeing any patients for 12 hours.
NHS Lothian confirmed the outbreak at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Roodlands Hospital in Haddington, East Lothian, Ferryfield House community hospital in Edinburgh, Midlothian Care in the Community and the medical emergency response incident teams (Merit) across the region.
The skin condition caused by human scabies mites, which are tiny parasites smaller than a pinhead, can affect people of any age but are most common in the young and elderly and although it is not usually serious, scabies is highly infectious.
A whistleblower who wished to remain anonymous said: “It was the mortuary staff who found this infestation after a patient who had been in the Royal Infirmary died. They could clearly see the mites on the woman’s body as there is no living tissue for them to bury into.
“They told NHS Lothian and staff who work in the acute medical unit where the patient was were informed after that.
“The incubation period for infection is around four weeks and the number of patients and staff in and out of that particular unit along with relatives and family friends is huge.”
NHS Lothian denied that the infestation was of the more virulent Norwegian scabies variety.
However, Unison Lothian branch chair Tom Waterson, slammed the health board for not notifying all NHS Lothian staff.
He said: “I’m disgusted, staff have a right to know whenever there’s a threat to their health. I heard staff who visit the acute medical unit three times a day had not been told of any outbreak of scabies. So, if NHS Lothian are now saying staff have been informed then they have not informed all staff and that’s a serious concern.”
Dr Duncan McCormick, public health consultant, NHS Lothian, said: “We are treating and monitoring clusters of cases of a very common and infectious skin condition, called scabies, in five sites in Lothian, including the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Roodlands Hospital.
Staff and patients have been issued with treatment and advice to prevent the infection, which does not present a serious health risk, from spreading.”