The Scottish health secretary has said she does not believe reports that nearly half of the country’s hospitals have not been inspected for safety or cleanliness.
A report in the Scottish Sunday Express said Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI) teams had only visited 69 of 141 sites in the past nine years.
It comes after a 10-year-old boy died at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow after contracting an infection linked to pigeon droppings.
Jeane Freeman has since ordered a review of the flagship hospital and how various factors contribute to “effective infection control”.
Asked on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland about the report, Ms Freeman said: “I don’t believe Healthcare Environment Inspectorate have taken it in that way, they follow an independent professionally driven rota.
“Healthcare Environment Inspectorate are independent of me, they run a rota in terms of how they inspect hospitals and they do that on a proportionate basis. So they work to their own schedule and the exact details of how many hospitals they inspect and when they do that and whether it’s a full inspection or partial.”
Ms Freeman confirmed on the programme that around 20 youngsters were moved from part of the children’s ward to the “adult hospital” several months ago because of work needing to be done on the ventilation system.
She said: “There are two parts to the children’s unit – one part has particularly high-spec ventilation system where bone marrow and so on children are about to undergo transplants so their immune system is very compromised, and those who have received transplants are also there.
“The other part of the unit did not have that very high-spec air ventilation system, it didn’t need it, but what they’ve done is take the opportunity to make sure that second part also now has that system because that gives them maximum flexibility.
“In part aside from the condition for which (the boy who died) was already in the hospital, he contracted Cryptococcus in my understanding in the main hospital.
“That is why, again, that area has been closed while they investigate what happened and those children – cancer patients – are in an additional area of the hospital.”
Ms Freeman also gave an update on two patients who were said to have contracted a separate, unrelated fungal infection called Mucor.
One of the patients has the infection and is seriously ill while the other is colonised and the infection is found on their skin but they are not directly infected by it.
The initial Cryptococcus infection is believed to be from pigeon droppings found in a plant room on the hospital’s roof, with the ventilation system at the heart of the review.
Ms Freeman said: “First of all I did not say that I believed the infection control in the hospital was good enough, what I said was that the hospital had undertaken everything that I believed they should have in order to provide additional infection control in the light of both the Cryptococcus and this second unrelated fungal infection.
“But that in order to be absolutely certain of that, that’s why I’d asked Healthcare Environment Inspectorate to conduct a thorough inspection in order to provide me with additional assurance.
“I’d also said though that, as you have outlined, we have had more than one instance of infection that has produced first of all the shift of those children who are cancer patients in terms of water and drainage and then the Cryptococcus infection and now the Mucor infection.
“Therefore we needed to be able to ensure that the design, construction and maintenance is suitable for effective infection control.”
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “Today’s admission that the hospital inspection regime is ‘unacceptable’ is just the beginning.
“The culture of secrecy we have seen develop in the Scottish health service has been encouraged by Nicola Sturgeon and 12 years of top down control of our NHS from SNP ministers – the crisis at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital has only exposed this.
“How Jeane Freeman takes responsibility for this latest NHS crisis will define whether or not she is up to the job and can actually resolve the many real problems and concerns in our Scottish NHS.
“We need action and full transparency to move the NHS forward and to make sure we put in place the steps to make sure public confidence in hospitals can be rebuilt.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Today we learn that a second fungal infection at the hospital, which has left a patient seriously ill, was kept from the public for a week despite NHS guidelines stating it should have been publicised within 24 hours.
“That is simply not good enough and the public will rightly question why this was hidden from them until Ms Freeman faced questions over the initial infection at Parliament.”