FRESH calls were made today for a public inquiry into Edinburgh’s legionella outbreak amid claims it is being “swept under the carpet”.
Lawyers acting for legionnaires’ disease victims renewed their call after the Health and Safety Executive issued a new safety notice to spa centres, care homes and manufacturers over their use of hot and cold water systems. A separate notice was issued in July about the maintenance of cooling towers.
Three people died and dozens were seriously ill in Edinburgh’s legionella outbreak which began in May this year.
The exact source has never been pinpointed, though it is most likely to have originated from a cluster of cooling towers in the Wheatfield Road area of Gorgie.
Ronnie Fraser, a taxi driver who lives in nearby Westfield Avenue, spent four days in hospital after contracting the disease and today criticised the lack of information in the wake of the outbreak.
He said: “It just went quiet. It seems to be getting swept under the carpet. We need a public inquiry so people know what happened here and we can try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This is a life-threatening disease.”
Clive Garner, a specialist illness lawyer at legal firm Irwin Mitchell, which is representing a group of 48 survivors from Edinburgh and a separate legionella outbreak in Stoke-on-Trent, said the latest HSE action was “simply too late” and fell short of the tough approach needed to prevent future outbreaks.
He said: “The evidence we have seen in the past, such as the HSE essentially halving inspections in cooling towers last year and the concerns around the accuracy of basic data on the number of cooling towers in operation, shows that further improvements are clearly needed in this area. Equally important is that the response to and actions taken during the Edinburgh and Stoke outbreaks is also carefully assessed.
“We strongly feel that a public inquiry would be the best course of action to ensure that lessons are learned from the problems of the past and to ensure adequate steps are being taken to protect the health and wellbeing of the public.”
Mr Fraser, 50, was admitted to hospital with suspected legionnaires’ disease only after calling out two doctors in one weekend. The first had told him he had a viral infection.
But today he said he was one of the lucky ones. “If I had left it another 36 hours, I don’t know what would have happened. Once they got my temperature down, they let me out of hospital on antibiotics.
“I was back at work after four-and-a-half weeks, but it floors you. My legs were like jelly. I was worried I might never walk again.
“I was shocked when I read inspections were being carried out only once every two or three years. You would think there should be a lot more inspections than that.
“The outbreak could have been a lot worse, but we need an inquiry to get to the bottom it.”
The HSE has said inspections are “only one tool” available to it in helping companies meet their legal obligations to control and manage risks in relation to legionella.