Having lost his mum in the Vale of Leven c-difficile outbreak of 2007-8, Gareth Bourhill was determined to prevent other families having to experience the same thing. Now a patient representative on Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s recently relaunched Excellence in Care Programme Board, he tells us why team work and communication are key to good quality care for all.

Just before Christmas 2007, my mum, Janet Fitzsimmons, was admitted to the Vale of Leven Hospital. She was diabetic and had a blood sugar issue. It had happened before, and we expected her home after a few days when her blood sugar levels were back to normal. But this time it was different and she contracted horrific diarrhoea. Doctors couldn’t find a cause or a suitable treatment and within 24 hours she was put in isolation. She had contracted clostridium difficile (C. diff).

While she came very close to passing away over those few days, she made a limited recovery. She died eight months later, on 9 August 2008 aged 69, one of the youngest victim of the Vale of Leven outbreak.

The story of my mum’s final illness has been summarised and reported on in the many documents and reports at the C.diff public inquiry. Police Scotland carried out a criminal investigation and I spent two full days with police officers in my home, writing down every single word, date, time, things about my mother’s care, confirming on hospital ward drawings exactly what bed she was in and for how long as she moved from ward to ward.

Helping ensure the past doesn’t happen in the future

After all this, after everything my mum went through, that we as a family went through, you might wonder why I wanted to get involved with Excellence in Care, with anything to do with the healthcare system.

Well, quite simply I lost someone who was important to me. Like my fellow public reps on the Excellence in Care programme board, I could have easily walked away and continued my family life as best I could after the conclusion of the public inquiry and the publication of Lord MacLean’s report in November 2014.

But, like my fellow reps, the knowledge I gained from the infection outbreak to publication of that report, I knew that until all 75 of the report recommendations were addressed and executed within all areas of NHS Scotland, a similar or indeed worse occurrence wasn’t just likely, it was likely to be a certainty.

What is Excellence in Care?

Excellence in Care is about the patient, their family and health care staff working together as a team for a positive outcome and experience for all. Ultimately that leads to less complaints and better outcomes for all.

My colleagues on the programme board have to keep reminding me that these things are what they call the “Fundamentals of Care”. Being a consultant electrical engineer, I go into engineering mode and call them the basic skills or foundation skills, but we’re all talking about the same things here. There’s no point in having a stunning looking skyscraper if you don’t get the foundations of the building right. Even if they are out of sight, out of mind buried in the ground, the building will eventually fall over.

When I started as an apprentice electrician in 1981 my new boss said to me: “Gareth, you are now an apprentice electrician, please don’t ever do anything while at work that will cause any embarrassment to your family or the good name and reputation of this firm”. To me that philosophy is also very much part of the fundamentals of Excellence in Care.

At the end of each shift, can you honestly say that the work you carried out, or were responsible for, was in line with your professional training and experience and protocols? If everyone does that, the outcome for patients will be better, family representatives will see that, there will be fewer complaints and far less chance of another Vale of Leven C.diff outbreak happening again.

Excellence in Care is very much part of every minute, every hour and every shift a health care professional works.

Gareth Bourhill is a public representative on the programme board of Excellence in Care, a programme led by Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

More information

To find out more about Excellence in Care, visit: the Healthcare Improvement Scotland website.