HEALTH Secretary Jeane Freeman has “serious questions” to answer after she said she was aware a child had died from an infection linked to contaminated water at Glasgow’s flagship hospital, a leading opposition MSP has said.

Anas Sarwar, Labour MSP for Glasgow, said the admission was a “remarkable confession” amid claims the child’s parents were left in the dark over the link between bacteria in the water at Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Children (RHC)  and their offspring’s death.

Mr Sarwar urged Nicola Sturgeon to intervene and said the First Minister was not told the truth about the incident, which emerged following investigations into infections in children in the cancer wards at RHC in 2017.

But speaking last night, Ms Freeman said that the Scottish Government had known about the case.

It is understood she was made aware of the alleged link after recieving a letter from the child's parents.

READ MORE: Child cancer patient 'died with infection' while being treated at Glasgow children's hospital

She said: “I receive a great deal of correspondence from individuals about particular patient issues and I don’t reveal that, because that would be entirely wrong for me to do.

“Not revealing it is not the same as not acting on it and I acted on it.”

Two wards at the RHC were closed last September and patients moved to the adjoining Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) as Health Protection Scotland (HPS) investigated water contamination incidents.


Jeane Freeman

Mr Sarwar said: “This is a remarkable confession from the Health Secretary.

“There are now incredibly serious questions for the Government and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to answer, and a huge challenge to rebuild trust.

“This devastating death has been covered up since September. 

“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.”

An HPS investigation found 23 cases of blood stream infections with organisms potentially linked to water contamination identified between January 29 and September 26, 2018.

READ MORE: Two wards closed at Glasgow hospital following norovirus outbreak​

Yesterday, it was reported a clinician-led team at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde investigated further back than 2018.

A whistleblower who contacted Mr Sarwar claimed this investigation found up to 26 cases of water supply infections in children in the cancer wards in 2017, and that one child with cancer died after contracting an infection.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHS GCC) insisted its “overriding priority” was the safety of its patients, and that tests had shown the water supply is safe.


Anas Sarwar

Mr Sarwar raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions, and called on Ms Sturgeon to take action.

The MSP said: “I have had information shared with me which shows that senior managers have been repeatedly alerted to the fact that a previous review failed to include cases of infection related to the water supply in 2017.

“Central to this whistleblowing evidence is that there were 26 infections at the children’s cancer ward, and in one case a child died as a result.

“This isn’t just a scandal, it is a heart-breaking human tragedy. First Minister…you aren’t being told the truth."

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Ms Sturgeon said: "We are determined to address the concerns of patients and families and the Health Secretary is committed to returning to Parliament to set out the full details of the public inquiry as soon as possible.”

The case comes after experts were appointed to investigate the concerns of families affected by infection outbreaks at Glasgow’s superhospital.

This also follows a review launched in January into the construction, design and maintenance of the new £842 million hospital, which opened in 2015, following the cases of two cancer patients who contracted an infection linked to pigeon droppings.

A Scottish Government Spokesperson said:  “Following her announcement of a public inquiry on 17 September to examine issues at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus, Glasgow and Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, Edinburgh, the Cabinet Secretary subsequently received a letter from a bereaved parent concerning the death of their child.

 “Acting on this letter, Ms Freeman arranged for a representative from the Health Board to make urgent contact with the parent to ensure their questions are answered. She also made clear her intention that the public inquiry will provide an opportunity for the voices of families to be heard and to be provided with answers.

“The Scottish Government is at all times aware of the importance of patient confidentiality.”

An NHSGGC spokeswoman said: “When a patient dies in our care, our clinical teams discuss with family members the cause of death and the factors that have contributed to this, where they are known.

“Patients who are very sick are prone to infections and we closely monitor all infections to ensure patients are appropriately cared for.”

“In 2017, we investigated two individual cases of Stenotrophomonas which were not linked. We reported these cases both to Health Protection Scotland and to our Board.

“These cases were also reviewed again in July 2019 when the clinical view was that no further action was required.

“At the time of the initial investigation, national guidance did not include a requirement to test for Stenotrophomonas in the water supply. It is extremely disappointing therefore that a whistle-blower has made this claim causing additional distress to families of cancer patients.”