15 June 2023

Medic called for temporary unit at new hospital over safety fears, inquiry told

15 June 2023

A children’s cancer consultant asked hospital bosses to draft in the military to build a temporary unit because he was so concerned about the safety of Glasgow’s newly built flagship hospital, an inquiry has heard.

Dermot Murphy, a consultant paediatric oncologist, told the Scottish Hospitals Inquiry on Thursday that he suggested the drastic action after concerns were raised over a series of contamination incidents on the Schiehallion unit at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus.

But he said the idea was not seriously considered and when the children were moved to a different ward, problems persisted.

Mr Murphy, who works at the unit based in the Royal Hospital for Children at the Govan campus, said: “I did suggest to managerial colleagues they could very quickly and easily build, get the military in and build something on the QE site, but something completely separate from the physical infrastructure of either the children’s hospital or adult hospital.”

He said he could understand why it was not taken forward, but added: “The underlying reason for that suggestion was because I had a concern that the whole of the infrastructure of the QE site was going to be replicated, or would replicate the problems we were having on (wards) 2a and 2b.

“So by moving from 2a and 2b to another unit, either within the children’s hospital or within the adult hospital, wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem.

“I think when we went to 6a that proved to be the case.”

Alastair Duncan KC, the inquiry counsel, said evidence submitted to the inquiry was that the build time was “thought to be considerable” and that it could be “12 weeks”.

But Mr Murphy told him: “My recollection was it was not even seriously considered. So there was no discussion about delivery time.”

The inquiry was launched in the wake of deaths linked to infections at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, including that of 10-year-old Milly Main.

The inquiry, before Lord Brodie, is also examining problems that led to the delay in the opening of the new Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh.

The children’s hospital in Glasgow opened in 2015 and formed part of the £840 million Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus, replacing a facility at Yorkhill.

Mr Murphy told the inquiry that the longer the unit was in the building the more problems staff encountered, and concerns started to rise.

“You became very aware that things weren’t working as well as they should; doors were sticking, sinks were blocking, and those kinds of things that wouldn’t necessarily make you jump to think that’s a cause of infection in children,” he said.

“You would see that our children were getting unusual infections, but you wouldn’t necessarily have merged those two things together at that point.”

The day before they were set to move into ward 2a, Hepa air filters had not been in place, and Mr Murphy said that was “bizarre” for a paediatric transplant centre.

“It’s like taking delivery of a car and there’s no tyres on,” he told the inquiry.

“If you’ve got one thing that’s so fundamental, like no Hepa filters being in place, and then the taps start to not work or the doors don’t close, or there’s fungus growing behind walls, then you start to think: ‘Well is this, the Hepa filters not being in, just a great description of how this hospital was built?'”

I think most people, if you were asking them 'would you build Europe's biggest hospital next to a sewage works?' would say 'well, that's a bit of a silly idea'

The filters had to be flown over from Ireland so they could be installed, and Mr Murphy told the inquiry they were not what staff would have liked.

“There were things that we had in Yorkhill that we were promised would be present in the new unit that aren’t present and that’s a shame,” he said.

The new hospital was built next to sewage works, and the inquiry has been told of the impact of that on patients and staff.

Mr Murphy said they would have preferred to have been on another site, with part of that reason being the smell.

“We were told before we moved across that there would be remedial works to the sewage works so that although it was currently smelly, it wouldn’t be smelly for the new children’s hospital or the whole new campus,” he said.

“This is not only Scotland’s biggest hospital, this is one of the biggest hospitals in western Europe.

“I think most people, if you were asking them ‘would you build Europe’s biggest hospital next to a sewage works?’ would say ‘well, that’s a bit of a silly idea’.”

There had been a hospital on the site before the new build, but he said: “I think to have continued something unpleasant just because it’s been going for 100 years, that is not necessarily a great idea.”

The inquiry heard the impact of the smell is around comfort and not risk of infection.

He said: “For families who come to a supra-regional cancer centre for the first time, they’re anxious, they’re nervous, and they need to be able to trust the professionals in front of them.

“If the first thing they’re presented with is the smell of sewage as they get out of their car, then that’s not a great start, but it’s surmountable, but it’s not a great start.”

The inquiry continues.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox