Health Secretary faces calls to resign over alleged ‘cover-up’ of hospital death

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman is facing calls to resign amid claims of a “cover-up” over the death of a child in a Glasgow hospital that may have been linked to contaminated water.

A whistleblower informed Labour MSP Anas Sarwar that a doctor-led investigation found the death of a young cancer patient at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in 2017 was linked to an infected water supply.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) said it was not possible to conclude infections identified in 2017 were connected to the water supply because it was not required to test for bloodstream infection Stenotrophomonas at that time.

In a statement on Friday, Ms Freeman (pictured) said that three days after she announced an inquiry into infection at the hospital on September 17, a parent contacted her to tell her of their child’s death after treatment at QEUH in 2017.

She said she wrote back on October 23 expressing condolences, saying she had asked senior NHSGGC staff to contact the parent and checked later this had been done.

She added: “I am at all times aware of the importance of patient confidentiality and so rightly I believe, I did not treat this correspondence as a public matter.

“The ward in which the child concerned in the correspondence I received on 20 September, 2A/2B, was closed and undergoing remedial and upgrading work.

“Any suggestion that children were at risk after I received this information is therefore incorrect.”

The Scottish Conservatives have said Ms Freeman should resign or be sacked after the Government “covered up” the case.

Tory MSP Miles Briggs said: “There’s no way Jeane Freeman can continue in the role now the details of this case have been made clear.

“It should not take a whistleblower and an opposition MSP to drag the truth out of this SNP Government. It’s completely unacceptable.

“Patients will be furious that such a serious failure has been covered up by this SNP Government.

“The Health Secretary must apologise to the family and resign or, if she refuses, be sacked.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said Ms Freeman’s decision not to go public was “incomprehensible” and called on her to make a statement at Holyrood on the issue.

An official investigation into water contamination at the hospital found 23 cases of child cancer patients with Stenotrophomonas in 2018, but an NHS whistleblower told Mr Sarwar an internal investigation uncovered an additional 26 cases since 2017 – including in one child who died.

According to the MSP, the parents of the child had never been told the true cause of death.

He said: “This devastating death has been covered up since September. Jeane Freeman says she acted, but the most important act would be to inform the parents.

“At the centre of this scandal is a tragic loss of life, and the priority must be seeking answers for the parents who lost a child.”

The health board has insisted its water supply is safe, and in a statement it criticised the whistleblower for passing information to Mr Sarwar, claiming it was “causing additional distress to families and to other families of cancer patients”.

A NHSGGC spokeswoman said Stenotrophomonas is widespread and is present throughout the general environment.

She said two non-linked Stenotrophomonas cases were investigated in 2017, reported to Health Protection Scotland and the health board, then reviewed in July 2019 when the clinical view was no further action was needed.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Cowan / Scottish Parliament / PA Wire.