Leader: ‘The public stoicism should be praised’

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THE outbreak of legionnaires’ disease in the Capital has been a worrying time for many, particularly those in the Gorgie/Dalry and Saughton areas.

While the number of cases continues to rise, the key news is that there is still only one death as a result of the outbreak. Experts predicted that numbers would peak over the weekend and then fall back, so there is reason to hope that the effect will not be as great as some have feared.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said it was “reassuring” that ten of the infected people had been discharged from hospital.

Significantly, the Health and Safety Executive has served an improvement notice on the North British Distillery close to the area of the outbreak.

North British Distillers, which has now shut down its towers, has been given three weeks to show the HSE that it has put appropriate controls in place. The company also has three weeks to appeal against the notice.

While inspectors are at pains to stress that this does not mean the distillery’s cooling tower is the definitive source of the outbreak, it is decisive action and a strong suggestion that the HSE believes the company has not acted properly in controlling the risk of legionella bacteria.

The HSE has also carried out tests at five other sites and used a chemical “shock treatment” to kill off any bacteria.

Amid all this, the stoicism of the people of the west of Edinburgh should be praised. Faced with a outbreak that has a science fiction-like quality (it is contracted through water droplets in the air) the public have largely remained calm and gone about their business. This cannot have been easy for those in vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and the elderly.

A dedicated telephone hotline together with a leaflet drop in the area and daily briefings from the Scottish Government and NHS Lothian have kept people informed.

Outbreaks of illness will never be completely prevented. The key is to ensure that when they do we are prepared and organised. So far, the response appears to have worked well.