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The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital opened to the public in April 2015. It was built to replace the existing ageing Victorian facilities such as the Western Infirmary and Victoria Infirmary. The new hospital was dubbed as a ‘super hospital’ with enough beds to hold in excess of 1,600 patients. The Hospital would incorporate into its campus not only an adult hospital but a children’s hospital and laboratory. It would represent the largest publicly funded NHS project ever undertaken. The future of health care in Scotland looked bright. Or so we thought.

Fast forward to February 2020 and The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has announced a Public Inquiry is to be held for the purpose of considering “matters of concern at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus, Glasgow (QEUH) and the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, Edinburgh (RHCYP)”.

With issues ranging from high rates of hospital acquired infections, improper ventilation throughout the building, lack of informed consent when administering drugs to young patients, the presence of water borne infections within the water supply, under-staffing, refusal or delay to provide medical records, the tender process resulting in the choice to award the contract to Multiplex, a company with no prior experience in building hospitals; there is a magnitude of issues to be examined within the confides of the Public Inquiry.

Thompsons represent Families for Healthy Hospitals. This is a campaign group made up of parents of children who suffered infections at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.Tragically, some of the children died.  The campaign group is dedicated to ensuring that the Public Inquiry uncovers the full truth and that all possible lessons are learned.

To ensure the Public Inquiry delivers answers to the concerns of the public, the Public Inquiry is guided in its remit by the Terms of Reference of the Public Inquiry. This essentially sets out what the public inquiry will have the power to investigate.

There are a number of concerns that the Public Inquiry may wish to address from the initial procurement and bidding process to day to day patient care. The Cabinet Secretary and Lord Brodie have stated that they are “committed to ensuring the inquiry addresses the concerns of the patients and facilities that have been affected by issues at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.” As it currently stands the Terms of Reference are focused on bricks and mortar rather than people.

Within the first page of the documentation thus far provided by the Inquiry, there is the suggestion that the public inquiry will relate only to “the construction” of the hospital. This is the first time such rhetoric has been suggested. It is in direct contravention with the comments made above in the letter from the Cabinet Secretary. For the Public Inquiry to be held in any esteem by the public, it is crucial that the remit is not restricted to commercial issues but instead takes the form of a patient and parent centric approach.

It is essential that the circumstances of individual patients and their families are considered in detail. A fundamental by-product of the issues that have arisen from the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital is that there has been breakdown in the trust that the public holds in the NHS. By providing a lectern for those directly affected to voice their personal stories, this would serve as an important “truth and reconciliation” exercise.

Decision making must be understood from a patient’s perspective. There must be transparency as to whether senior members of the board were feeding ambiguous or false information to junior staff to disseminate to patients and parents in order to alleviate concerns that were growing.

There must be an investigation into the response of the NHS Board and Scottish Government into the concerns at both hospitals. We do not yet have answers to broad questions such as when did the NHS Board and Scottish government first become aware of integral errors with the building. Did they push ahead with the building in full knowledge that there were fundamental flaws throughout the building?

As we have seen in other Public Inquiries held in Scotland, notably the Infected Blood Public Inquiry, there has been a specific term of reference incorporated that begs the question; was there any form of a cover up? To ensure the Public Inquiry is held in the highest public confidence, it is crucial that the Cabinet Secretary and Lord Brodie do not shy away from such scrutiny.

The Terms of Reference in its current format is too narrow in scope if it is to stand a hope of rebuilding the trust and confidence that has been lost by the public. It is more important than ever that the individual stories and voices of those who spent countless days visiting their loved ones in hospital are and considered and listened to within the remit of the Public Inquiry.

Blog by Conor Kenny

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