An ageing brain surgery unit that was described as ‘very high risk’ by has investigated nearly 20 incidents where a patient has died or suffered harm in the past five years, figures show.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde ordered 17 Significant Adverse Event Reviews (SAERs) at the Institute of Neurological Sciences, which are carried out if treatment has led to an unexpected death or serious complications.

The unit, which is based at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, provides emergency surgery for patients who have suffered catastrophic brain and spinal injuries as well as treating a range of neurological conditions including Multiple Sclerosis and is the largest of its kind in the UK.

The health board declined to provide any further detail about any of the patients who came to harm, over the past five years, saying it would breach data protection principles.

The Herald revealed in April that the crumbling buildings had been categorised as ‘very high risk’ for patients and staff due to ventilation failures, poor drainage and sewage leaks which led to elective surgery being cancelled for two years at one point.

Patients waiting for elective surgery were frequently “bumped” because there are no dedicated theatres for emergency admissions. 

Surgical site infections were also described as “an ongoing issue of concern”.

A freedom of information request reveals that five board-led investigations have been ordered into hospital-acquired infections since 2017.

The Herald:

The board has spent almost £3million on private surgery, in the past five years, because of capacity, staffing issues or problems related to the unit.

The highest amount - £597,263 - was spent over 2015/2016, at a time when all elective surgery was cancelled due to a series of incidents which saw raw sewage leak from the ageing building into operating theatres and recovery rooms.

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In 2012, £25 million was spent improving facilities but essential upgrades to improve drainage were abandoned because the repairs would have taken 10-12 years and required multiple wards to be decanted elsewhere. 

A major re-development is now planned and has been designated a top priority due to the “clinical risks involved in not addressing the significant issues posed by the existing infrastructure”.

Most of the private referrals have been for spinal surgery. The health board said it would continue to refer patients “who are clinically suitable” to reduce waiting times.

A total of 1,672 operations were cancelled from 2015-2021 for clinical reasons or by patients themselves.

Patients are also travelling to hospitals run by NHS Lothian, for surgery to treat brain blood vessel disorders such as aneurysms.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has been unable to provide an elective Interventional Neuroradiology (INR) service locally due to staffing issues and 377 patients have been referred since 2017.

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The health board said the situation has “improved dramatically” in the past year with the recruitment of three new consultants with a fourth due to be appointed later this year.

From April 2021 onwards, only patients already referred and accepted by NHS Lothian have been referred and treated.  

The institute opened in 1974 and is recognised internationally for the development of the Glasgow coma scale, a clinical scale used to measure a person’s level of consciousness after a brain injury.

It also provides surgery for head and neck cancers and thrombectomy treatment for stroke patients.

A number of re-development options are being considered including creating a new dedicated campus at a cost of £377million or integrating services into the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

According to board papers the backlog of maintenance issues is said to be in the region of £25million and is resulting in snap closures of wards.

In February the water supply was cut off in ward 64 to complete necessary upgrades which also affected a live ward with 23 beds.

There have been numerous incidents of patients and staff being trapped in malfunctioning lifts in the neurosurgery building while none of the current facilities have dedicated entrances for ambulances drop offs and the entrance is often blocked to emergency vehicles by taxis and private cars. 

A spokesman for NHS GGC said: “In relation to the use of private sector support, in an ongoing effort to improve patient waiting times, NHSGGC continues to refer clinically suitable patients to the private sector for neurosurgery spinal procedures.”