24/01/2012 06:28 GMT | Updated 24/03/2012 09:12 GMT

Belfast Hospital Baby Deaths - Ministers To Update On Investigation On Tuesday

Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots is due to make a new statement today on attempts by medical staff to discover the source of a killer infection which has claimed the lives of three babies at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast.

Another suspected case is under investigation while six babies have traces of the bacterial infection on their skin. They are being closely monitored to make sure it does not enter their bloodstream.

Laboratory tests have not confirmed a new case, but the victim is understood to be suffering from the same Pseudomonas symptoms.

A major deep clean of the maternity unit has been carried out, but staff have been unable to trace the source of the infection. Taps were removed and sinks and pipes checked amid fears it could be in the water system.

Mr Poots has asked for a full report today before he gets to his feet to make a statement at Stormont.

He said: "We can't suggest at this stage that's the cause of the problem, but it's certainly one of the areas being investigated."

The first baby died on January 6, the second a week later and the third last Thursday night.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa can be found in soil and stagnant water. The children who died were born prematurely. The disease can also pose a threat to elderly people with weak immune systems.

The Department of Health said the number of babies who have bacteria on their skin is now six.

A statement said: "It is not causing active infection in these babies. The babies continue to receive the neonatal care they require. As a precautionary measure, babies' skin may be screened again as the situation requires to see if they are carrying the bacteria.

"All necessary precautions are being taken to avoid spread of infection."

The affected area in the unit will remain closed until it is absolutely certain it is a safe environment in which to manage premature babies, the statement added.

All other maternity services and wards in the Royal Jubilee Hospital are fully operational and working as normal. No expectant mothers or babies have had to transfer outside Northern Ireland.

The statement said: "Neonatal care in NI is provided within a network across the five trusts and all the organisations involved are co-operating fully on a daily basis to ensure that specialist neonatal care remains available for all infants who require this level of support.

"In line with well established practice, some mothers due to give birth or babies who require special neonatal care may be transferred to another unit. This will be on the basis of specialist clinical advice to ensure babies receive the most appropriate care.

"Providing infants with a high level of care and supporting concerned any parents remains a key priority."