THE first victim of the Capital’s deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak is today leading fresh calls for answers – as the one-year anniversary of the crisis that engulfed Edinburgh approaches.
On June 3 last year, NHS Lothian said that the Capital was in the grip of a legionella outbreak, following a surge of cases linked to the south-west of the city.
It went on to claim three lives and left more than 100 confirmed or suspected of having Legionnaires’ disease, while thousands more may have become ill after breathing in the bacteria.
But 12 months on, the source of the outbreak is yet to be confirmed and authorities have been criticised for a lack of information over the causes of the episode. Calls for a public inquiry have fallen on deaf ears.
John McLaren, who lives in Stenhouse Avenue, close to the Gorgie epicentre of the crisis, was admitted to hospital on May 30 last year. It is believed that he was the first city resident to be diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.
The 64-year-old said: “I’m just so incredibly frustrated by the lack of information. Right from the start there seems to have been a wall of silence. None of the authorities have ever given us real information.
“I hate to think about something similar happening again, but how can we learn lessons if no information is being shared?”
Mr McLaren, who spent three weeks in the Royal Infirmary including ten days in intensive care, said he is still suffering painful symptoms following his illness.
Cooling towers around the Wheatfield Road area of Gorgie were pinpointed as the most likely source of the outbreak and two firms in the vicinity were served with improvement notices by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
But no confirmation of the cause has been made public, with a police investigation ongoing. NHS Lothian is to produce more information on the outbreak this month, although it is believed publication of a full report has been blocked by the Crown Office, police and HSE over fears it could compromise a potential trial.
Legal firm Irwin Mitchell is representing 35 victims and families affected by the crisis.
Elaine Russell, a partner at the firm, said: “It has been a nightmare for many of our clients over the past year. They were caught completely unaware by the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, yet have received very little information about what went wrong.
“It is imperative that information about how this incident happened is shared with those affected as soon as possible. It is also crucial that all organisations involved learn from this so that any potential outbreaks in future can be prevented.”
Dr Janet Stevenson, a consultant in public health medicine with NHS Lothian, said: “NHS Lothian will be presenting an interim report on the investigation into the outbreak to our board meeting in June.”