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28.03.19

Mould identified as cause of Edinburgh infection linked to heart surgery deaths

Three different types of mould have been identified as the cause of the hospital infection linked to the deaths of heart surgery patients in Edinburgh, but the source still has not been found according to ministers.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed in a statement to the Scottish Parliament that six patients so far have contracted rare fungal infections at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE), and that some have since died.

Earlier this week, NHS Lothian wrote to nearly 200 patients who had undergone heart surgery in the last six months at the RIE, warning them of the potentially fatal infection risk which it said was “very low.”

Planned operations this week have also been cancelled to allow for intensive cleaning of the operations theatres.

Freeman said that two of the four closed operating theatres have now reopened, but she confirmed that the source of the infection is yet to be identified.

A total of 26 patients have responded to the letters, 19 of whom have been passed on to their local health board for further consideration.

The letters were sent after an Incident Management Team was convened to look into an unusual case of heart valve infection.

Following an extensive review of patients’ infection records since 2015, the team found that six patients who had the surgery between March 2017 and November 2018 were affected by unusual infections caused by microorganisms which may have been picked up during surgery.

The trust has not said exactly how many of these patients have since died, but said the letters were just a precaution.

The health secretary Freeman told Holyrood: “I completely understand that for patients who have been contacted by the board this will have been a worrying time.

“But, let me repeat, the board were right to undertake a review of cases and inform patients they identified as a result of that exercise.

“No patient wants to receive a letter similar to those sent by NHS Lothian last week.

“But I hope that what I've outlined today provides reassurance that these letters form part of a proactive, precautionary infection control and risk management system here in Scotland.

“Not all healthcare associated infections are preventable, but we do have dedicated professionals and a rigorous system, focused on limiting and controlling them.”

This follows a number of high-profile infection related incidents in Glasgow, where prosecutors are investigating the death of a 10-year-old boy and a 73-year-old woman who contracted infections linked to pigeon droppings.

Freeman said “"We need to ask, were these types of infection always existent but masked by more common things like MRSA?

“Could it be that as these types of infection are going down, others are emerging? We don't know.”

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