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Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots today announced a full and rigorous investigation and review into the recent outbreak of Pseudomonas

Speaking in the Assembly today where he briefed MLAs, the Minister said a review would be chaired by Professor Patricia Ann (Pat) Troop CBE, former Chief Executive of the Health Protection Agency, and it would be facilitated by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA). Mr Poots told MLAs the review would investigate the reasons for, actions taken, and lessons to be learned from the outbreak and that it would report on the experiences of the families.

He told MLAs: “I have asked Patricia Troop to conduct a full and rigorous investigation into these incidents and their tragic consequences. Professor Troop has a breadth of experience across the health service, including health protection at both national and international level. Professor Troop will be assisted by a team to include the full range of relevant expertise that is required. The terms of reference, which I will determine, include a thorough investigation into the role of my department and each of the other HSC organisations. Given the gravity of what has happened, my priority is to ensure that the review is thorough and rigorous but also makes recommendations on any immediate actions that we need to take. I want an interim report by the end of March, so that urgent actions can be taken."

He said: “However, I am not content to leave it there. I have asked that RQIA also investigate the experiences of the families of those babies who died and also those who have been affected in other ways. This is understandably a difficult and sensitive undertaking, which cannot be rushed. This is why I have separated the investigation into two parts. It must provide me not only with urgent answers, but it must also be extensive and encompass all relevant aspects of this incident. I can assure members, we are determined to be thorough, challenging and robust. I have asked for this no more than eight weeks after the interim report.”

Mr Poots said that, as well as the investigation and review, he has asked for measures to be devised that will assure the public of the standards of infection control.

He told MLAs: “We know that Pseudomonas is a very difficult organism to eradicate completely and permanently. We know that it is not the only potential threat to those vulnerable babies in neonatal units. Therefore, I have directed that RQIA develop, with expert public health input from the PHA, a range of specialised audit tools. These will provide independent assurance to the public and to myself, as Minister, of the standards of infection prevention control within neonatal units and other augmented care settings. This audit tool will provide self-assessment standards for Trusts. RQIA will provide the necessary independent assurance that these are being fully followed and implemented.

“Let me reassure the public that my first priority is to ensure the safety of all babies in our neonatal units. Safeguards are in place to protect babies and, as a precautionary step, any potential risks as a result of contamination of taps and water outlets are being addressed. We are changing every tap on every clinical hand washing basin in every neonatal unit in Northern Ireland. Water samples from these taps will also be tested as part of the investigation. Only sterile water will come in contact with babies and staff will thoroughly wash and dry their hands and use a special hand rub before they touch the babies.

“I will leave no stone unturned in my quest to reduce the risk of Pseudomonas infection in neonatal units. There is no single, simple quick fix solution and while we need to move swiftly and decisively, we must be sure we do the right things, based on the best scientific evidence available.

“Be in no doubt, I am absolutely determined to inquire into all of the circumstances of this tragedy. I resolve to investigate and understand what happened. I will not be deflected in achieving this, because it is only in doing so that we can prevent this happening again.”

There have been no new cases of Pseudomonas infection in the Royal or any other neonatal units since the last update. The total remains at seven. The number of babies colonised also remains at seven.

The Minister reassured pregnant women that services at hospitals are operating as normal. He said: “Our maternity hospitals and neonatal units continue to provide a safe and effective service, despite the practical challenges they face. Expectant mothers should attend their appointments as normal.

“I also want to pay tribute to all staff for their continued dedication in caring for babies and for working tirelessly to investigate the problem and take proper action.”

 

Written by Scott Buckler
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 12:12

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