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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 20 March 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Urgent Question, Topical Question Time, Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Decision Time, Holodomor Remembrance Day 2018


Topical Question Time

Royal Hospital for Children (Water Contamination)

1. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the response to, and the impact of, the contamination of water at the cancer ward at the Royal hospital for children in Glasgow. (S5T-00987)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison)

I welcome the opportunity to update members on the work that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the incident management team are doing to address that issue.

I am sure that the overriding concern of all of us is the wellbeing of the children and families in the affected areas. I have spoken today with the board’s chair and chief executive, who were clear that no patient is giving any cause for concern as a result of bacterial infections associated with the incident. However, the board, with support from Health Protection Scotland, is taking appropriate precautionary measures to ensure that any infection is contained and addressed. Following identification of the bacteria, testing of water from the water tank that supplies both the Queen Elizabeth university hospital and the Royal hospital for children has been negative. A range of control measures has been put in place, which include some taps and shower heads being taken out of use for chemical disinfection, and point-of-use filters are in the process of being installed. Filters are due to be in place by close of play today, and sampling will be undertaken to ensure that the water is deemed safe.

I have asked Health Protection Scotland to co-ordinate a thorough investigation as a matter of urgency to review all those matters and to make any recommendations for the national health service. I will ensure that that review is reported to Parliament.

Anas Sarwar

The news of contamination of the water supply at the cancer ward at the Royal hospital for children in Glasgow has caused worry and concern for parents of very sick children. I have spoken directly with affected parents, who are angry, distressed and understandably concerned. Parents tell me that they learn more about the problem from a newspaper than from any communication from the health board. They also tell me that the issue has been running for three weeks.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Come on, please. Ask the question.

Anas Sarwar

However, the issue has come into the public domain only in the past few days. It is clear that there is an issue with transparency.

Will the cabinet secretary advise when she was first made aware of the issue and what communications with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde she has had prior to today? Can she say why it took a press inquiry for the health board to go public and why there has not been better communication with patients and parents?

Shona Robison

I absolutely understand the worry and concern of parents. I have been assured by the health board that it has been keeping parents informed, but if Anas Sarwar is saying that that is not the case, I will certainly follow that up. The board has said that it has had extensive communication with parents, who will understandably be anxious.

I was first made aware of the issue on 11 March, I think. Scottish Government officials were made aware of it prior to that, and Health Protection Scotland has been helping the board to address the issues of concern that have been highlighted.

One of the bacteria involved is very rare, so it is quite a complex matter to try to get to the bottom of the issue. Obviously, the welfare and safety of the children has been the priority, which is why procedures are being followed to ensure that there are alternative cleaning facilities while filters are being fitted to taps and shower heads, for example. If the water testing is negative after the filters have all been fitted by the end of today, it is hoped that the water supply will be back up and running by tomorrow evening. However, that depends on having a negative result from the water testing.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Anas Sarwar’s supplementary should be brief, please.

Anas Sarwar

The hospital is Scotland’s flagship hospital, but parents have spoken about a lack of hot water for nearly three weeks. That has meant child cancer patients being unable even to bathe. Some have been forced to take a taxi to other sites so that they can wash. They are cancer patients—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No. You have had three questions. You should ask a brief supplementary question now.

Anas Sarwar

—who are at a greater risk of infection. With respect, Presiding Officer, these are issues that have been raised by concerned parents. That is three weeks of people not having the ability to wash their children. That is three weeks of no transparency.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No, Mr Sarwar. I said that you should ask a supplementary. Please ask the question.

Anas Sarwar

That is three weeks in which there has been no urgent resolution. Will the cabinet secretary investigate the matter further and apologise directly to the patients and their parents?

Shona Robison

Of course I apologise to the parents and the children for the inconvenience that they have experienced, but I am sure that everybody will understand that the most important thing is safety. If the shower heads and taps are being tested and investigated, that has to take its course.

These are complex issues that need to be fully investigated. As I said, one of the bacteria is rare. I assure Anas Sarwar and, indeed, the parents and the children affected that absolutely everything has been done to get to the bottom of the matter. The focus is now on fitting filters in the immunocompromised wards, which will be done by the end of today.

As I have said, if the tests are negative, the water supply will be switched back on. I have also said that Health Protection Scotland will be looking into all related matters. If recommendations can be made to improve the situation, that will happen.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

The reports are very worrying, and I welcome the news that none of the children involved is currently giving cause for concern. As the cabinet secretary has stated, tests have also been carried out at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, where concerns have previously been raised—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Will you please ask a question?

Annie Wells

—about contamination of patient equipment and the cladding of the building. How will the cabinet secretary reassure patients and those living in Glasgow that the hospitals are fit for purpose?

Shona Robison

First, the incident is completely unrelated to the cladding on the building. The hospitals are state-of-the-art facilities. They are not alone in sometimes having bacterial infections break out. When the bacterium is rare, identifying its source is particularly complex. Everybody has been putting their shoulders to the wheel in order to get to the bottom of the incident. I hope that all members will support the board, Health Protection Scotland and the incident management team in their efforts to do so. The focus is on the safety of the children in the hospital; that should be our main priority, too.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Fulton MacGregor. Make it a question, Mr MacGregor—I am losing patience.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that there has been no infection as a result of the incident at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital? Has NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde taken full advice on handling the incident from Health Protection Scotland and Health Facilities Scotland?

Shona Robison

No adults in the hospital have been infected. Health Protection Scotland and Health Facilities Scotland have provided support, and the board has been working flat out to get to the bottom of the incident. It took immediate action once it realised that a bacterial infection was present. It has done everything possible to get to the bottom of the matter as quickly as it could, and it has received expert advice and support in order to do that.

These are complex issues to deal with, and we should get behind those who are trying to resolve the matter and support them in their efforts in doing so.

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I raise the issue of the scheduling of the urgent question and the topical question. As we have just seen from the exchanges, Anas Sarwar raised a very serious matter. Members were not allowed to properly develop the urgent issue, because of the restriction—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Kelly. As you know, that is matter for the business managers. Both topics were very serious. Mr Sarwar asked three questions. I did not mind his first question at all—[Interruption.] Please sit down, Mr Kelly. That is not a point of order. The timetabling of today’s business was set by the business managers. We have to start stage 3 of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill. I have given a little extra time. Members know the timetabling for stage 3, which must go ahead. Please sit down, Mr Kelly; I have dealt with the matter.