THE BBC has been accused of insensitivity after broadcasting a “tasteless” episode of a hospital drama about an outbreak of legionnaires’ while 14 people were still fighting for their lives with the disease in intensive care in the Capital.
In the latest episode of Holby City a man died after he was struck down by legionnaires’ disease and frantic efforts were then made to track down the source of the bacteria as a major incident was declared.
The storyline mirrored the tragic death of 56-year-old Robert Air from Edinburgh, who died from legionnaires’ just last week, and the hunt for the source of the legionella bacteria – focused on cooling towers in the west of the city – is ongoing.
By yesterday afternoon, the BBC had received 11 complaints about the episode from viewers concerned about the link to the current outbreak.
And questions have been raised about whether the corporation would have handled the screening differently if the outbreak had been in England.
Steve Cardownie, the city’s deputy leader, said: “They may well have thought twice if something had happened in London. I would have thought there would have been some kind of message at the end.”
And viewers expressed their shock on social networking site Twitter. Paul Reaney tweeted BBC Scotland TV and radio host John Beattie to say: “Do you think it’s a bit dodgy that Holby City is a legionnaires’ disease story tonight, a bit tasteless given Edinburgh!”
Fraser Boyd added: “Bit tasteless of the BBC to be showing a Holby City episode about legionnaire’s disease just now, isn’t it?”
When the show was broadcast on BBC Scotland on Tuesday evening, there were 14 legionnaires’ victims in intensive care wards and 23 on general wards in hospitals.
The latest update from NHS Lothian revealed two new cases bringing the total to 41 confirmed and 47 suspected legionnaires’ victims, with 11 patients in intensive care and 19 on general wards.
The BBC said it monitored events closely before deciding to go ahead with the broadcast. But the corporation failed to include any warnings of the show’s content before it began and did not provide the number for the helpline set up to deal with inquiries from residents concerned about legionnaires’.
Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “I don’t think they should have not put the show on TV, a lot of things that are broadcast relate to people’s experiences in their everyday lives. But they should have put a message on with the NHS number. That would have been a sensitive and responsible thing to do.”
Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie added: “As a public service broadcaster they should have made the helpline number available after the programme in the interests of information and public health.”
NHS 24 has so far received 831 calls to the dedicated helpline, for legionnaires’ disease, which is 0800 0858 531.
A spokesperson for the BBC said: “Holby City is a topical medical drama series. This week’s episode was filmed three months ago and is in no way based on recent events but entirely coincidental.”
The Health and Safety Executive and Edinburgh City Council are continuing their investigations into the possible source of the bacteria