Child cancer patient given secret treatment to prevent deadly water infection in ‘cover-up’ at scandal-hit hospital
A four-year-old boy received secret treatment to prevent a deadly water infection while battling cancer in a crisis-stricken hospital.
It was an unguarded comment from a hospital cleaner that David Campbell still can’t forget.
When his four-year-old son James underwent grueling chemotherapy at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, she told him to be careful — she wouldn’t wash a dog in the water in the pediatric cancer ward.
Days later, the father and other parents, who started buying bottled water to wash their sick children, watched as water filters were put on taps and air filters were installed before being caught off guard when hospital bosses suddenly closed the ward.
David Campbell has spoken out about his fear of cover-ups (Image: Sunday Mail) Read more related articles
David, 44, is speaking out to reveal what he believes is a catalog of cover-up and secrecy surrounding the water infection scandal linked to deaths from childhood cancer and 84 other infections at Glasgow’s flagship campus, £842 million.
And he describes how he was kept in the dark about a fungal antibiotic – to prevent patients from getting very sick from insects – that was secretly given to James.
David said: “These children have been endangered. It was collateral damage because those responsible tried to cover up and hide what was happening in that hospital. It should have been the safest place, but it turned out to be the most dangerous.
“When I complained to the health board, I received a letter back from chief operating officer Jonathan Best who said they were not aware of any concerns until 2018. That is incorrect.
“They knew it a year earlier. Other children had died, whistleblowers from the hospital had come forward. Evidence presented to the public inquiry makes that clear.
“These are the most vulnerable children, and by covering this up, the higher-ups in the hospital were gambling with their lives.”
Best told David in his letter that they were not aware of any significant concerns about water infection until 2018, but according to the closing statements in the public inquiry published last Thursday, there were concerns about water in 2017.
NHS Glasgow said last night that the letter contains a factual statement from investigations in 2018 and that they would provide their own evidence for the investigation to address the “context of the families’ perceptions”.
James underwent grueling chemotherapy at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Read more related articles
David, a chief officer in the merchant navy, said his world collapsed the day his only child was diagnosed with a rare childhood soft-tissue cancer.
After surgery to remove the tumor near his eye, James began what would become the first of nine rounds of chemotherapy in August 2018.
David, from Helensburgh, said, “Walking to Ward 2A that first day was really hard. There was a little boy with no hair and only one leg who said hello as we walked by. And another little girl who came into his room and told him everything would be okay.
“I had to compose myself for James. I always switched TV channels when children got cancer or something like that. I had already started preparing for his death.”
When James started treatment, David’s mother and James took turns with him every day.
David said: “Unless you’ve been through it, you don’t know how involved a parent must be in the hospital looking after your child. You learn how to replace and insert nasal tubes, how to deal with the central line that goes into their little bodies that deliver the chemo, how to clean them up after being sick or when they don’t make it to the bathroom. The first red flag was when a cleaner said so within the first few days. I started asking questions and the nursing staff, who were incredible, told me not to worry.
“But you spoke to other parents in the ward and to a few staff members who said there was a problem with the water, but it was being resolved. By that time, all the parents of the children there were no longer using the showers that regularly flooded.
“We had started out buying large bottles of water from the shops downstairs to clean James, literally pouring the water over him at the bathroom door while trying to keep him clean every time he was sick or had an accident, which could be up to six or seven times a day.
“We were even told not to wash our own hands in the sinks afterwards. And we asked questions, why? What was going on?
“Water filters appeared on every faucet, but by then we were very wary.
“We were constantly told how important it is that James does not get any form of infection. With his immune system so compromised by the treatment, it would be an infection that would kill him, not the cancer. It was like living on the cutting edge the whole time.”
David, who had signed consent forms for all of James’ treatments, was casually told they were adding another drug to the cocktail being pumped into the youngster to fight the cancer.
Staff reported water and sewage problems at the hospital (Image: Scottish Labour) Read more related articles
Pasaconazole is an antibiotic prophylaxis and is given as a precaution to prevent infection. David said: “Prophylaxis was creeping into his drug regimen and we weren’t told why, it was just part of his treatment plan all of a sudden. Now I know why.”
On September 19, David was sitting at his son’s bedside when he received a text from a friend asking if it was true that the ward was closing due to infection. Then he saw it on the TV news.
About 20 children were relocated, some as far as Aberdeen, others to Dumfries and Galloway. A small number, including James, were transferred to Ward 6A, a former adult ward in the main part of the hospital.
David began making official complaints to then Health Minister Jeanne Freeman and the Health Council. He also gave evidence during the hospital’s public inquiry earlier this year.
He has nothing but praise for the nursing staff and the counselor who treated his son.
He said: “Their care and dedication never wavered, although many of them knew what was going on. They were put in the most difficult positions.
“Some were afraid to say anything to us, others were just as upset. Some were pregnant and worried about their own health. We saw staff leave and were told they couldn’t take any more.”
Greater Glasgow NHS chief Jonathan Best
By this time, investigations were underway into the deaths of three children, including 10-year-old Milly Main who had died in August 2017, and a 73-year-old woman. James, now seven years old, is back in school and his cancer is in remission.
Not only his son’s battle with cancer has taken its toll on the family, but so has the secrecy and denial surrounding the hospital treatment.
He is one of the families considering legal action.
David said: “I have serious trust issues to this day and treat every day with James as if it could be his last. If people responsible for caring for sick children can cover up and not release critical evidence, what can other people do for their own benefit?”
Read more related articles
Stephanie Spencer of Thompsons Solicitors, who represents the family, said: “What David and his family are going through is just awful.
“A family with a seriously ill child must have made all the information about their child’s treatment completely clear and feel that the environment they will be in for life-saving treatment is safe.
“The fact that this was not the case is in no way acceptable. David has shown tremendous courage and determination to stand up for his son and other families.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said they had been in touch with the family to answer questions about James’ treatment.
Asked about the use of the antibiotic and why it was given to James without the family knowing why, the spokesperson said: “There are many scenarios where children and adults receive prophylactic treatment. At the time of James’ care, an Incident Management Team of clinicians recommended the use of prophylaxis for some immunocompromised children as a form of preventive treatment.”
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The Sunday Mail also asked why Section 2A/B was still closed.
NHSGGC said: “We can confirm that ward 2A/B will remain closed while undergoing an £8.9 million ventilation upgrade and refit, which will create one of the safest clinical environments in the UK.”
He added that to all families involved in the ongoing public inquiry, the health board “repeats our offer to meet with them and answer any questions they may have, and to provide them with all the support and reassurance we can.”
The Scottish Government said: “We continue to work with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and seek assurances that every effort is being made to protect all patients in all hospital settings, including those at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.”