East Lothian E-coli outbreak: Families cancel holidays due to 'confusing' messages on precautions required

Families cancelled holidays, missed weddings and took time off work because of an E-coli outbreak, but now wonder if it was all necessary.

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Parents caught up in the outbreak which closed five nurseries in East Lothian say they were given confusing messages about the precautions they were required to take. And now they fear they may have lost out unnecessarily because they were complying with the advice they received.

There were a total of 56 confirmed cases of E-coli around Haddington and Musselburgh, but all the nurseries affected have now been allowed to reopen.

Former Midlothian Labour MP Danielle Rowley, whose son attends one of the nurseries ordered to close, said the letters parents received gave confusing and contradictory information about what they were supposed to do when their children were sent home and exclusion orders were issued.

"The nursery my son goes to in Musselburgh was told to close as a precaution Friday, August 26,” she said, “The initial letter we got said the kids’ exclusion order was a legal document meaning they couldn’t mix with others and had to stay at home ‘til they had negative tests.

"A few days later, we got a message from the nursery with a link to a Q&A, which said families should stay at home too and shouldn't mix. It said it was similar to the self-isolation imposed during the Covid lockdown.”

Then Ms Rowley said a letter arrived on September 7, dated August 25, suggesting that all the exclusion order meant was that children could not go to nursery and recommending they shouldn't go to other settings where there are children, like soft play and swimming.

Former Midlothian Labour MP Danielle Rowley says the messages to parents were confusing. Picture: Scott Louden. .

She said: "So first we were told the kids weren’t allowed to leave the house, then we were told we weren’t allowed to leave the house and now it’s just recommended.

“None of us were going out, to the shop or anything, but then families in Haddington were saying they didn’t have to do any of that.

“It was very annoying because some people cancelled holidays, didn’t go to weddings they were meant to be attending and missed family events.

“And for some people staying at home was really difficult because they may be in less secure work with an employer who’s not very understanding, but maybe they could have had family support and gone to work.”

The Church Street Pear Tree Nursery in Haddington was the first to close, on August 2, after a number of children fell ill and went on to test positive for E-coli.

Dona Milne, NHS Lothian director of public health and health policy, said: “This is a very complex outbreak affecting a number of nurseries in East Lothian, with a high volume of tests required and a large number of children and families. A total of 56 E-coli cases have been confirmed.

“From the closure of the first nursery on August 2, to the fifth nursery on August 26, the detail provided to nurseries, staff and parents changed. The wording of information highlighting the need to avoid mixing with other people because of the nature of the infection became stricter as the outbreak progressed.

"This was because the Incident Management Team became aware of evidence of connections between nurseries, and had reports of families continuing to mix after they were excluded.”

She said the Public Health etc (Scotland) Act 2008 gave health boards the power to issue exclusion orders where the health board knows that a person in its area has an infectious disease, has been exposed to an organism which causes such a disease, is contaminated or has been exposed to a contaminant.

“If families have incurred financial losses due to the public health control measures for the E-coli outbreak, they are entitled to submit a claim for compensation. Examples of financial loss may include loss of earnings and payment of nursery fees.”

She said instructions on how to claim were shared in the letters sent directly to families, and forms can also be found on NHS Lothian’s website.

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