C.diff inquiry told of 'poor hygiene' at Vale of Leven

Image caption, A total of 18 patients died at Vale of Leven Hospital

A public inquiry into Scotland's worst outbreak of Clostridium difficile (C.diff) has been told of poor hygiene standards at the hospital involved.

Brenda Bowes described how her mother Margaret developed diarrhoea a few weeks after admission to the Vale of Leven Hospital in West Dunbartonshire.

A total of 55 patients developed C.diff and 18 died at the hospital between December 2007 and June 2008.

C.diff was blamed for nine deaths and was a contributory factor in nine more.

The inquiry, chaired by retired judge Lord MacLean, heard testimonies at the Community Central Halls in Maryhill, Glasgow.

Diarrhoea bug

The proceedings opened with a one minute silence in memory of the people who died during the outbreak.

First to give evidence was Mrs Bowes, whose 74-year-old mother Margaret Dalton was admitted to the Vale of Leven in November 2007.

Mrs Dalton had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer, the inquiry heard.

Mrs Bowes said her mother had diarrhoea during a weekend visit to her home from the hospital on 17 December and was later diagnosed with C.diff.

She was admitted to the hospital and transferred to a critical care unit in one of the wards.

Mrs Bowes said she quickly noticed that there seemed to be a diarrhoea bug on the ward.

She told the inquiry that the toilets were so busy that her mother, who was a "private person" and did not want to bother nurses, had to use a "rusty, dirty and quite disgusting" commode.

She also said that she had cut her mother's nails while she was in hospital in December 2007, stating: "She usually cut her own but she was too weak, and there was faeces under her fingernails."

The family did not tell staff about the discovery.

Mrs Bowes described how she was not encouraged to wash her hands with soap and water until well into her mother's illness.

'Run down'

She also said staffing on the wards was "poor" at times and that staff morale was "low" when she visited her mother.

"The general opinion from staff was they were being run down and the Vale of Leven would close," she told the inquiry.

She also took home her mother's soiled clothing to wash while she was in hospital.

Image caption, The inquiry is being chaired by retired judge Lord MacLean

Mrs Bowes, a primary school teacher, said she was given no instructions on how to deal with the clothing and that staff were "very busy" and appeared under stress at times.

She said the family were worried that C.diff was not mentioned on her mother's death certificate because they believed it to be a factor in her death.

She told the inquiry: "At many times I felt that perhaps there wasn't as robust an inspection system as there should have been.

"I hope that a more firm and more robust inspection is put in place.

"I feel that something has to be done."

An initial review of procedures at the hospital following the C.diff outbreak found "inadequate" infection controls.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon ordered the inquiry into the deaths last year.

Evidence from patients and relatives is expected to last into next week.

This will be followed by evidence from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and its staff.

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