MSPs identify a range of issues in infection monitoring within Scotland’s NHS

03.05.2019

Questions have been asked about the approach to and extent of surveillance and monitoring of infection within the NHS in a letter issued today by the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee.  Noting its concern with the current system, the Committee have been unable to identify a proactive approach to either.

The issues are raised in a letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport. It is the latest development in the Health and Sport Committee’s inquiry into the healthcare environments in Scotland which was launched in the wake of recent infection related incidents in Scotland’s hospitals.

Concerns are also raised over the maintenance backlog NHS Scotland faces, with a recent Audit Scotland report in 2017/18 saying that the backlog of maintenance for the whole NHS estate is costed at £889m.  This includes around 300 outstanding maintenance jobs in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which is less than 4 years old.

Delays in creating an independent national Whistleblowing Officer are also raised. The 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.

Lewis Macdonald MSP, Convener of the Health and Sport Committee 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.
• A suggestion for greater monitoring of NHS boards by external bodies with regards to risk assessment.
• The development of electronic surveillance systems at a national level to improve intelligence.
• The depth of staffing shortages in cleaning and infection control teams as well as microbiology across NHS boards.
• The way infection risk is considered in the design and commissioning of new health facilities.
• And concerns are also raised over perceptions of the independence of the review into Queen Elizabeth University Hospital given the Chairs of the review group are both former NHS Scotland employees.

The Committee has asked for a response to its letter by Tuesday 14 May.

Background

This inquiry was launched by the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee to identify the scale of health problems linked to the healthcare environment in Scotland.

The inquiry comes in the wake of the deaths of two patients at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QUEH) in Glasgow, following which the Scottish Government announced an independent external review.

The Committee agreed at its meeting on 30 April 2019 to send a letter to the Cabinet Secretary outlining its concerns

Read the letter in full here.

You can learn more about the work of the Health and Sport Committee on the Scottish Parliament website.

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