Channel 4 News has reported an investigation into The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, the second largest private finance initiative (PFI) funded hospital in the Midlands. This summer, the water supply at the hospital was reportedly contaminated with chlorine three times and has been linked to the deaths of two patients. On one occasion the chlorine levels were 16 times higher than the Drinking Water Inspectorate’s safety level.
During its investigation, Channel 4 News found that, when high chlorine levels were first detected in August, “staff and patients were told not to drink tap water. They were given bottled water instead”. A few days later staff received an email confirming that the water was “safe to drink”. However, Channel 4 discovered that two patient deaths may have been related to chlorine contaminated water during that time. One of the patients who died had been receiving dialysis treatment from machines using contaminated water while the other was being treated in the radiotherapy department which had reported high chlorine levels.
In a statement reported by Channel 4, the hospital said: “A review of all chlorine systems has been completed and the implementation of any necessary works is being carried out. We have enforced additional safety measures… and no patients or staff were adversely affected during this period”.
There are just over 100 PFI funded hospitals in the UK. The hospital buildings are funded by private firms which are repaid with interest by the trusts over a period of 30 or more years. However, critics argue that the PFI scheme is potentially jeopardising patient safety. The problems stem from contractors not being open and honest about failings due to the cost implications. As PFI contracts are self-monitoring, any problems and failings have to be reported to the NHS by the private finance initiative themselves on a monthly basis. When these failings are reported, trusts can make payment deductions. Any unreported failings can therefore put patient safety and care at risk.
Channel 4 News claims that the problems reported at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham are one in a long list of concerns about building quality in hospitals built under the PFI scheme which make “it difficult to maintain standard health and safety levels”.