High-tech taps brought into hospitals to combat the spread of bacteria helped contribute to the development of pseudomonas, a Stormont committee has been told.
The health scrutiny committee heard that a result from the move to bring in sensor-operated taps — which were introduced widely across the health service — was an “unintended consequence”.
One of the three experts on the review panel of the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority who appeared before the committee, Michael Kelsey, said the new taps supported the growth of pseudomonas while the older taps appeared to be less likely to do so.
Ironically, the new taps were brought in to help reduce the incidence of people touching taps and therefore help reduce the potential spread of germs and bacteria — especially in particularly sensitive hospital areas such as neo-natal units.
The meeting on Wednesday came just a few days after new interim guidelines to health authorities for dealing with the pseudomonas bacteria were issued across the United Kingdom — but the committee was assured there was no connection.
“It has taken a long time to gather enough evidence to understand what the problem was,” Mr Kelsey informed MLAs.
Committee chair Sue Ramsey said she had been struck by the number of circulars which had been sent out on the issue and asked whether their points had been implemented in hospitals.
Professor Pat Troop, chair of the panel, replied: “I don’t feel we have got to the bottom of that story yet.
“We are going to go back and look at that.”
The DUP’s Jim Wells referred in particular to a memo dated December 22 which he said lacked an urgent tone.
He suggested that given the time of year the temptation must have been for staff to put it in the in-tray to look at after the holiday season. He added: “Had it been we might not have had the problem of the tragedies that we had then in January.”
He also referred to a paper trail which he said might also lead to a “mega-omission” in relation to the failure to move to using sterile water.
Quizzed by Sinn Fein’s Mickey Brady and the SDLP’s Mark Durkan, Professor Troop also said the panel had recommended the neo-natal network across Northern Ireland needs to be more formal and it was clear three different strains of the bacteria had been involved.
Mr Poots had urged the committee to hold a special session to consider the report during the Easter recess and chair Sue Ramsey readily agreed.