Legionnaires' outbreak probe urged

More than 40 people who contracted Legionnaires' disease earlier this year are calling for a public inquiry in the aftermath of two fatal outbreaks in the UK.

The patients are seeking answers over what went wrong and have instructed law firm Irwin Mitchell, a spokesman said.

More than 100 people acquired the potentially fatal lung disease during the outbreak in Scotland, which saw three people die. The outbreak, which came to light at the end of May, is thought to have centred on a cluster of cooling towers in the south-west of Edinburgh. Two people died in Stoke-on-Trent following an outbreak thought to be linked to a hot tub.

The law firm, which is representing patients who were affected in both cities, said that recommendations set out to prevent such outbreaks occurring have "failed" and called for a public inquiry to investigate what has gone wrong.

The recommendations were suggested after seven people died and 180 people contracted Legionnaires' disease following an outbreak at a leisure centre in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. As a result of the outbreak, which occurred 10 years ago, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a set of recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.

Clive Garner, illness expert at Irwin Mitchell, said: "Ten years ago the Barrow Legionnaires' disease outbreak was so severe that two public meetings were held and eventually the HSE published a special report with a view to avoiding this kind of tragedy from happening again.

"To put it simply, these plans to prevent further outbreaks of the illness have failed and since 2005 the number of reported cases of Legionnaires' disease in England and Wales has been at around 350-400 cases per year. This is an unacceptably high figure bearing in mind how simple it is to eliminate the risk of infection. Now in 2012, we are faced with two outbreaks very close together affecting more than 120 people so far and tragically claiming the lives of five innocent people."

Mr Garner said that a public inquiry could reduce the risk of similar outbreaks, adding: "While it is important that the terms of reference of the public inquiry are specific and refer to preventing future tragedies, the remit of the inquiry needs to remain broad enough so that it can adequately deal with issues that may be uncovered as the evidence unfolds."

Patient Jan Paisley, who was on the brink of death after contracting the disease in Edinburgh, added: "This has devastated my life and that of my family. I felt like a pin cushion and had to learn to sit, walk and talk again when I came home from hospital I am looking for answers and guarantees that this will not happen again."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "It would be entirely inappropriate to comment on a public inquiry at this time. The HSE is continuing its inquiries and any consideration of a public inquiry would have to wait until their investigations are complete."