If it matters to Scotland it matters to us
A family may not have been told that the death of their child was linked to an infection at Glasgow’s flagship hospital, Anas Sarwar has claimed.
More than 80 infected children and two deaths have been linked to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.
But the Scottish Labour leader said one family had still not been told that their child was affected.
He said it was feared it could be the family of one of the two children who died.
Mr Sarwar told the Scottish Parliament that the infections at the Glasgow hospital campus were the “biggest scandal of the devolution era”.
He said there were still families “fighting for the truth and for justice” over what happened to their children.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that all but one of the families involved had been contacted – and insisted that there had been “rigorous” attempts to get in touch with the relatives who had not yet been reached.
The first minister said a full independent inquiry had already been commissioned into the “incredibly serious matter” of the water-borne infections at the Glasgow hospital campus.
An independent review found that 84 children were infected with rare bacteria while undergoing treatment at the £850m QUEH campus.
More than 30 of the sick children – including the two that died – were found to have infections linked to contaminated water supply
The mother of one child – 10-year-old Milly Main, who was recovering from leukaemia when she went into toxic shock and died in August 2017 – has called for health officials to resign.
Milly’s family only found out about the probable cause of her death in a newspaper.
A review team managed to contact the families of 83 of the children involved, but have been unable to reach one – and Mr Sarwar told MSPs it was “feared” that this was the family of the other child who died.
The Scottish Labour leader said that clinicians had been trying to raise the alarm for years – and that the scandal involved “denials, bullying of clinicians, cover-ups and parents of sick children being blamed for their illnesses.”
He added: “Two children died in Scotland’s flagship hospital due to a water-borne infection.
“One family had to find out by fighting the health board, and the other family may not even know.
“This is the biggest scandal of the devolution era, but inexplicably there are still families fighting for the truth and for justice.”
Ms Sturgeon replied that an “expert panel” had provided individual reports to the families of the patients covered by the review, but had “regrettably and despite extensive efforts” been unable to get in touch with one family.
She said: “I have had an assurance that there have been rigorous attempts to contact the remaining family, and regrettably it has not been possible to contact them.
“I know NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde will continue to take all reasonable and appropriate steps to contact that family.”
Mr Sarwar said the first minister’s response was “not good enough”, and that someone should take responsibility for the scandal.
He said: “Nicola Sturgeon was health secretary when this hospital was commissioned, and she was first minister when it opened despite an independent review finding that the water supply was not safe.
“But the only people that have paid the price for this scandal have been the families and the whistleblowers.
“Years on, why has nobody taken responsibility? Why have there been no consequences, why are families still having to fight for the truth? Who is going to be held accountable?”
Ms Sturgeon replied that “this is a matter of utmost seriousness”, and said attempts to contact the family would continue.
She said: “I am not disputing that this is an incredibly serious matter – what I am disputing is that the government is not taking this seriously and is not determined to get to the bottom of what happened, from the opening of the hospital right through to now, to make sure families have answers to their questions.”
Aound 3,700 people a year die from alcohol-related causes in Scotland according to most recent data, and people must become more aware of the risk factors and mitigations, said Alcohol Focus Scotland.
The charity also urged Scots to take up the offer of a bowel screening test, which can save lives.
The most recent data, from 2015, shows that 578 men and 124 women were hospitalised with alcohol-related bowel cancer, while 164 men and 31 women died because of the disease.
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Alison Douglas, Chief Executive Alcohol Focus Scotland, photographed at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
“People really don’t understand the link between alcohol and cancer,” said Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland.
“The majority of us don’t know that alcohol causes cancer, and that’s a real problem. We all know drinking is risky, and it’s up to us individually to make our own decisions about how much we choose to drink, but if we don’t have the knowledge, and the information isn’t available easily to hand, it makes it more difficult for us to make informed decisions.”
Alcohol Focus Scotland has called for mandatory health warnings on alcohol products, similar to those on tobacco, and for guidance from the Chief Medical Officer to be displayed.
Many Scots have a “head in the sand” attitude to the risks of alcohol consumption and bowel cancer, Ms Douglas said, and she urged people to take up offers of bowel screening.
Professor Bob Steele heads up the Scottish Bowel Screening Programme and is the lead specialist on bowel cancer in Scotland
“It’s probably for many of us our worst fear to get a diagnosis of cancer,” she said.
“We just don’t want to engage with or hear about cancer, and that is a challenge for people that are trying to communicate health information and trying to help people reduce the risks where they can.
“We’ve all got a genetic inheritance that puts us at greater or lesser risk but we all have control over what we eat and drink, and how we exercise – things that we can actually influence and take control of, and alcohol consumption is one of them.”
Professor Bob Steele, senior research fellow at Dundee University and founder of the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network, also urged people to take up screening.
Tests are offered to everyone in Scotland aged 50 to 74, every two years.
Uptake is around 60 per cent, and Prof Steele would like to see this increase.
The main reasons for people avoiding the test are being put off by its nature, being afraid of a cancer diagnosis, or simply being “too busy”, he said.
But early detection of bowel cancer could be life-saving.
“The fundamental importance is that bowel cancer in its early stages is a curable disease, and in its late stage it’s incurable,” said Prof Steele.
“If you find a very early bowel cancer that’s treated with surgery – and sometimes it doesn’t even need surgery, sometimes it can be removed at the same time as a colonoscopy – whereas for late stage disease there’s very little chance of cure, it’s as simple as that.
“We know that the best way of detecting early bowel cancer is by screening, because early bowel cancer doesn’t cause symptoms, so by the time you actually have symptoms that have been caused by a bowel cancer it’s usually quite an advanced tumour.”
The co-owner of some of the city’s most popular businesses has said they’re ‘not in a good place’ financially in light of the decision to keep Glasgow under Level 3 of lockdown.
Colin Clydesdale, co-owner of The Ubiquitous Chip, Stravaigin, and Hanoi Bike Shop, has warned that businesses face closure over the impact the restrictions will have.
The restrictions mean that alcohol can’t be served indoors, leaving pubs and restaurants out of pocket.
Each time Ubiquitous Chip has been forced to close, Colin estimates it’s cost between £10,000 and £12,000 and between £6,000 and £8,000 to reopen.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, he said: “Even in level three it’s not normal trading conditions. We’ve been under duress, now, for approaching 14 months, I genuinely don’t understand how the Scottish Government thinks hospitality in Glasgow can cope with this.
“We are not in a good place financially. At quarter to five last Friday we got the news that we wouldn’t be moving into a tier we would much rather have been in. We have spent three days phoning 700 people who were all booked in for Saturday, May 22. It took three people, three days to apologise, trying to stay positive while doing it. People are desperate to get back out – we are actually having to hold them at bay.
“We have done as we were told. Hospitality has bent over backwards to adhere to every single new rule. I can go from the epicentre in Glasgow, and if I go 1.7 miles in one direction, I can have a pint, but if I go six miles in the other, to us, I can’t. I don’t understand that. I can’t see how it makes any sense at all.
“It’s a huge financial cost [to the business]. Just having three folk (making cancellation calls) has probably consumed half of the £700 compensation we were so generously offered. ”
Despite furlough still being offered to businesses, employers are required to top it out but some have been unable to meet the cost of topping it up and have been forced to let go of staff.
Colin added: “It’s very simple. If there’s no money coming in, and there’s money going out, it can only last so long. It’s pretty basic stuff.
“Our guys are great. They’ve rolled with the punches at every turn, but the look of despondency on their face last weekend at 5pm when they all realised what had happened – they need a break. It’s relentless.
“It’s very simple. It’s all about sums. How long can you expect businesses to limp along in a loss-making situation before they all start to fold. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
The number of cases per 100,000 people in Glasgow has increased from 71 last week to 122.6 in the seven days to May 18.
Speaking at her briefing on Friday, the First Minister said that Glasgow is ‘yet to turn a corner’ and could remain under Level 3 restrictions for a number of weeks.
THE response of the newly reappointed First Minister to the results of the Scottish election is as depressing as it is predictable.
Following a mostly presidential campaign, emphasising Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic, we are now told that there is a cast-iron mandate for another referendum and independence is around the corner.
At Full Council last Thursday, the SNP group were akin to religious zealots announcing the second coming. Independence was shoehorned into almost every single contribution and promoted as the cure all for every single problem. We face another five years of this triumphalist nonsense.
Like all nationalists, the SNP are desperately keen to promote a sense of exceptionalism, that Scots are somehow different from our neighbours with unique traditions and distinct, not to say superior, values. Scotland, they argue, could be so much better if we were not held back by Westminster. Westminster, of course, being no more than a euphemism for England.
In the two weeks since the election, this line of reasoning and myth making has been ratcheted up. We are told that the Scottish people have spoken and are being held against our will by the rule of law rather than democracy. This is a ridiculous argument as it ignores the fact that the rule of law is essential to any functioning democracy. In a democracy, laws can be changed but they cannot be ignored or dismissed simply because they are inconvenient.
Nationalists continuously argue that Scotland is almost unique among nations in that the people have always been sovereign. In doing so they hark back to a historical conceit concocted by George Buchanan almost 500 years ago to justify the overthrow of Queen Mary in 1567. It was trotted out again a century later to excuse the revolution against James VII. It was based on myth and invented history then, it remains a constitutional nonsense today.
Similarly, the SNP have jumped on the recent events in Kenmure Street to peddle not one but two myths. Firstly, that the Scots are more welcoming and tolerant than our near neighbours and secondly that, in an independent country, there would be no such thing as illegal immigrants. Survey after survey has proved that Scots are only marginally more liberal in their attitudes to immigration than the rest of the UK. Scotland, unfortunately, has its fair share of racists and sectarian bigots. That is an issue we have to tackle but it does not make us unique and certainly no better than our English and Welsh cousins.
An independent Scotland, like every country in the world, would have immigration laws. If, as the SNP hope, our neighbours agreed to a common travel area, those laws would have to be clear and effectively enforced. The alternative would be passport control at Berwick and Gretna. Instead of admitting this, our First Minister promulgates a falsehood that in a uniquely tolerant and progressive Scotland all such issues and difficulties will evaporate.
I fully expect the next several years to be entirely dominated by constitutional wrangling at the expense of using the powers and considerable resources of the Scottish Parliament to address the very real problems we all face.
These problems range from the strategic to the mundane. Independence is not required to improve the quality of our health service, it is already fully devolved. Freedom will not empty our bins or keep our libraries open.
There is no indisputable mandate for a referendum, still less is there any evidence that there is even a narrow majority for independence. Sadly, the SNP can never admit that because their myths are more important than any inconvenient reality.
Child poverty has risen in every Scottish council area since 2015, even before the impact of the pandemic is considered, campaigners have warned.
The End Child Poverty coalition points to research from Loughborough University which shows estimates of children living in poverty in each local authority have increased.
Child poverty rates for 2019-20 range from 15.8% in the Shetland Islands to 32.2% in Glasgow, though figures were calculated before the onset of coronavirus.
At 24%, Scotland has lower levels of child poverty than England (30%) or Wales (31%).
Holyrood has unanimously passed legislation requiring the Scottish Government to ensure fewer than 18% of children are living in poverty by 2023/24, on course to less than 10% by 2030.
Campaigners say there can be no complacency if these targets are to be met.
Speaking on behalf of the End Child Poverty coalition, John Dickie said: “Solid foundations have been laid in Scotland for future progress on child poverty, not least the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment and an increasing focus on action at local level.
“But this new data is a stark reminder that child poverty was still rising in every part of Scotland, even before the pandemic struck.
“The challenge now is for government at all levels to use every power they have to boost family incomes and reduce the costs that struggling parents face.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While child poverty levels remain lower than in England and Wales, we are not complacent and are doing all we can to tackle and reduce child poverty in Scotland.
“We are providing support worth about £5000 by the time a child turns six through the Best Start Grant, Best Start Foods and Scottish Child Payment.
“This payment, worth £40 every four weeks, is already reaching thousands of families on low incomes – we are working to deliver it to all eligible children under 16 by the end of 2022 and doubling the value of the payment by the end of this Parliamentary term.
“The 2021-22 Scottish Budget commits further investment to tackle child poverty, including £100 million to support struggling families through new Pandemic Support Payments and £49.75m for expanded free school meal support.
“These statistics highlight that, even before the pandemic began, the challenge of negotiating the UK’s welfare system has left many people in desperate need of help.
“The UK Government must act now to match our action and commit to making permanent the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, and extend this to people on other benefits.”
I READ your article on making Glasgow city centre a more attractive place (“Goodbye suburbs, hello green spaces and quiet life … of Glasgow city centre”, The Herald, May 13) and I felt compelled to respond. I have always been a great fan of Glasgow and its people but the city centre as it stands is an absolute disgrace. A national embarrassment given it’s our largest city with COP26 coming in November.
The streets are filthy, litter is everywhere, chewing gum and vomit is omnipresent, the roads are potholed and the pavements are a patchwork quilt of trip hazards and disrepair. Obviously, the pandemic has been a huge factor with half-empty streets and boarded-up buildings, but the whole place reeks of we don’t give a damn anymore.
Mob. It’s hardly been the defining word of the Covid Lockdown, in which half a dozen people was an illegal assembly, but in happier times it’s part of everyday language; the shops were mobbed today, the platform was so mobbed I thought someone would fall in front of a train. We all use it.
Police Scotland have recovered drugs worth an estimated street value of £273,000 in Johnstone.
Officers executed a search warrant on Thursday morning at a property in John Lang Street as part of an intelligence-led operation.
During a search of the address significant quantities of heroin, cocaine and herbal cannabis were recovered.
A 27-year-old man was arrested and charged in connection with drug offences. He appeared before Paisley Sheriff Court on Friday and a report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.
Detective Sergeant David McIntosh from Paisley CID said: “Drugs have absolutely no place in our community, and as a result of this operation, a significant quantity has been taken off the streets.
“Officers are out working every day to identify those seeking to supply drugs in the area and put a stop to this harmful activity.
“Support from members of the public is absolutely vital to this work and we would continue to encourage people to engage with us and pass on any relevant information.
“Anyone with information or concerns regarding drugs activity in their community can contact Police Scotland through 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”
The politicians aren’t listening to us,’ an exasperated teacher tells me by phone. ‘There’s nothing left for us to do but get on with it.’ The despair felt by Scottish teachers is a notable shift from the anger I encountered in the staffroom when I trained among them five years ago.
That was the year of the ‘PISA shock’, 2015, when Scotland performed abysmally in reading, maths, and science in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Distinguished education professors at top Scottish universities were left reeling. One such academic suggested that the Scottish government had five years to fix the problem. In response, John Swinney, the SNP’s education secretary, promised to implement ‘radical’ and ‘controversial’ reforms. He might have also promised to make matters worse, since that’s what he’s done.
In 2019-2020, the proportion of pupils passing three or more Highers was 43 per cent, lower than any year from 2015 onwards. Audit Scotland, an independent watchdog, concludes that the attainment gap between rich and poor ‘remains wide’ and that progress ‘falls short of the Scottish government’s aims’. Scottish children from poor backgrounds remain significantly less likely than their English counterparts to go to university.
Yet in 2019 Swinney tweeted that the most recent PISA figures (showing a slight ascent from the depths to which literacy had sunk) ‘corroborates what we see elsewhere — improving schools and a closing of the attainment gap’. But where exactly do we see this? Look closely at the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, the shoogly peg on which the Scottish government hangs such claims, and you quickly find that it is not fit for purpose. For instance, the government reported that in 2019 the highest ever percentage of school leavers (26 per cent) from the most-deprived quintile of areas were going on to university. However, elsewhere the government’s own research indicates that as many as 90 per cent of those on low incomes actually live outside the ‘most deprived’ areas.
‘About half of the decrease in the gap (2+1.5 out of 7) is likely to have been due either to non-disadvantaged people living in deprived areas, or to the stagnation of entry from non-deprived areas,’ writes Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Paterson goes on to say that the government’s decision to base its policy conclusions on these ‘sleights of hand seems distinctly dubious’.
Distinct dubiety is a hallmark of this government’s education policy. From the beginning, standards have been adapted to fit the curriculum, and not (as it should be) the other way round. For example, when Curriculum for Excellence was introduced in 2010 under Alex Salmond, the SNP withdrew Scotland from two major international maths, science, and literacy surveys: Timss and Pirls. Then, in 2017, the government decided to withdraw from another tried and tested literacy and numeracy survey.
The SNP’s preferred metric is continuous assessment, which they largely make up as they go along. Standard Grades and Intermediates have been replaced with ‘National 4’ and ‘National 5’ and the Scottish Highers have been hollowed out, changing in all but name. To put it mildly, the results fail to impress. Paterson explains that not only do the latest reports indicate that ‘pass rates in the Higher and National 5 assessments have been falling’, but ‘in mathematics, too many students’ numeracy was weak and too many struggled with algebra. In social subjects and in English there was a tendency to mistake opinions for facts, to make sweeping generalisations, and to answer exam questions with regurgitated model essays that had been memorised’.
It was hardly surprising that CfE — dreadful at the best of times — was unable to withstand the pressures of the pandemic. Last summer, Swinney was forced to upgrade some 75,000 high school students’ exam results after the outcry over the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s decision to downgrade pupils’ marks. Cruelly and unusually, teachers had been appointed arbiters of children’s futures, and were instructed to rank order their pupils. Which created entirely foreseeable problems.
Now it would seem that ‘assessment’ is virtually the only form of education that Scottish pupils are guaranteed to get. After Easter, pupils were brought back to the classroom to face a continuous diet of assessments, since the official end-of-year exams have yet again been cancelled. What’s the difference between an ‘assessment’ and an ‘exam’? ‘You tell me,’ one teacher says.
Teachers are deeply concerned about the mental health of pupils under this stress. There are huge holes in pupils’ learning due to the pandemic, but the time away has also exposed the weakness of a system based on teaching children to parrot answers for a test. Many pupils have not been taught how to think, let alone have any general knowledge on which to draw. And while some private schools were able to set up preliminary exams over Zoom with invigilators, pupils at state schools and from poorer backgrounds (or without the same parental support) have had no such advantage.
Meanwhile, teachers are struggling to keep up with the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s continual changes to its 2020-2021 ‘alternative certification model’. As indicated on the SQA’s website, the latest ‘update’ was announced on April 13, maddeningly close to the June 25 deadline to submit materials (though that deadline is also an ‘update’).
Perhaps most scandalous of all is Swinney’s decision not to release the findings of the OECD’s report on Curriculum for Excellence until after the May election. He says this is on account of ‘confidentiality rules’. Who does he think he’s kidding? Education is fully devolved. Scotland’s pupils aren’t guinea pigs. Scotland’s teachers aren’t load-carrying mules. Scotland’s public isn’t stupid. Those responsible for this mess ought to answer for it at the ballot box.