Demands for the Glasgow health board to be sacked for its handling of the infection scandal at its flagship hospital have been rejected by the Scottish Government.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the scandal of water-borne infections linked to deaths at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) was a “human tragedy on an unimaginable scale”.
Leading a debate at Holyrood calling for the senior management of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to be replaced, he urged MSPs to stand by NHS staff and bereaved families affected.
But despite support from the Scottish Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the government coalition of SNP and Scottish Green MSPs dismissed the calls, citing a public inquiry under way into the hospital.
Opening the debate, Mr Sarwar paid tribute to the frontline QEUH staff, saying: “I have every confidence in you and know that you’re working day and night to do your best for your patients.
“I have no confidence in the leadership of your health board.
“You deserve a leadership that doesn’t try to silence you, that doesn’t try to bully you and – perhaps most of all, as we have seen this week – you deserve a management that doesn’t disgracefully attempt to spread the blame to staff.
“I know they’re letting you down, and this fight is as much for you as it is for the patients and families.”
Addressing SNP and Green MSPs, he added: “For the sake of the dedicated NHS staff, the patients at the hospital, the grieving parents, and in memory of those who have lost their lives, I implore you: please, let’s send a message and tell the leadership of the health board that this parliament has no confidence in them and escalate the board to the highest emergency level without delay.”
In response, the government’s public health minister Maree Todd said: “Various claims have been levelled against the health board and throughout we have worked to ensure that these are investigated and, where necessary, acted upon.”
She suggested 98% of recommendations from a recent review of the health board had been completed and added: “Our NHS staff are working incredibly hard, and we will continue to do all we can to support them to provide the best care possible for the people of Scotland.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross praised Mr Sarwar “for being a persistent champion for the cause of the families who deserve these answers”.
Calling for another inquiry into the Scottish Government’s response to “avoidable deaths” at the hospital, Mr Ross argued “it’s not good enough to hide behind a public inquiry as an excuse for inaction”.
He added: “The health board has utterly failed in its duties, and it’s right that they are removed as part of the systemic changing of culture across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde towards honesty and transparency.
“The SNP government ministers must also restore confidence that they are doing everything they can to treat the scandal of avoidable deaths with the urgency it deserves.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said it was “contemptible” that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has failed to attend the debate.
“It is dismaying that the First Minister has not found an hour in her diary to attend parliament to address the problems at this hospital, a hospital which she commissioned, a hospital which serves patients in her own constituency and one which problems have gone unaddressed on her watch,” he said.
“The problems at QEUH have only emerged one by one in the years after it opened and they emerged because they were allowed to have a catastrophic impact on patient health.
“The failures in standards are shameful. The fact that such failures have led to loss of life is unforgivable.”
Concluding the debate, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I really do take exception to this line about ‘whose side are you on?’.
“Because each and every one of my backbench colleagues or my colleagues in government – and of course they include myself in this – I suspect we are all on the same side.
“The same side as Douglas Ross, same side as Anas Sarwar. The same side as Alex Cole-Hamilton,
“Each and every single one of us wants the best, most safe patient experience for members of the public.”
Scottish Labour MPS Jackie Baillie, who appeared close to tears at points, said: “Far too often during my time in this parliament, I have had to raise the heart-breaking impact of infection outbreaks in our hospitals on the families and friends left behind.
“From the deaths following the C diff outbreak in Leven to the tragedy continuing to this day at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, each one of those deaths are avoidable.
“While we can’t bring back those taken too soon, we can help deliver some justice for their families and we can try to stop it from happening again.
“That is our responsibility today.
“So today, tell the health board leadership of Greater Glasgow and Clyde that this parliament has no confidence in them and that enough is enough.
“Tell them we will not tolerate their bullying, their cover-ups, their disgusting attempts to blame courageous NHS staff and, yes, their lies.”
The Scottish Labour motion was successfully amended by the Scottish Government by 64 votes to 55 to remove mention of parliament having no confidence in the health board.