Hospital deaths caused by failure to deal with infections - claim

Whistleblower says multidrug-resistant superbugs behind deaths at Limerick hospital

Up to 30 patients have died in University Hospital Limerick after being infected with multidrug-resistant superbugs, a whistleblower has claimed.

The Health Service Executive staff member alleges a long-term failure by local health managers to adequately tackle an outbreak of infection that dates back to 2009.

She also claims her repeated efforts to highlight failing infection controls were ignored and she was victimised after alerting the Health Information and Quality Authority to her concerns in 2014. It responded by sending inspectors to University Hospital Limerick and publishing a report critical of the hospital’s facilities for limiting the spread of infection.

Despite this, and the despatching of a national infection-control team to tackle the problem in Limerick, new cases of multidrug-resistant bugs continue to occur. Eight cases were detected in the hospital in the second quarter of 2016, and a further three in local nursing homes, according to the latest figures.

Last month, the individual made a protected disclosure to Minister for Health Simon Harris, which included a list of 29 named patients who, it is claimed, were multidrug-resistant positive and whose deaths were “associated” with the hospital.

Risk to patients

Mr Harris has told senior HSE officials to provide assurances the Limerick hospital is “managing healthcare-associated infections and anti-microbial resistance in line with national standards, in order to minimise risk to patients”. Despite acknowledging the “serious issues” raised by the whistleblower, he has refused to meet her.

The whistleblower has called for an external, independent investigation of the outbreak and of the 29 deaths between 2012 and 2014 in which, it is claimed, drug-resistant organisms may have been a contributory factor.

Staff in Limerick have repeatedly raised their concerns over the management of patients with multidrug-resistant bugs. In 2011, four members of the infection-control team wrote to senior management expressing ongoing concern about cleaning practices, hand hygiene and antibiotic prescribing practices at the hospital.

In another letter, a senior member of staff warned managers that “complacency has set in” on the issue and said one superbug, known as KPC, was becoming endemic in the hospital.

Tallaght Hospital in Dublin is battling a similar outbreak of carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE) but has declined to disclose the scale of the problem.

Multidrug-resistant superbugs are those that have become resistant to some of the most advanced antibiotics we can offer.