Public Inquiry Now Vital As Third Legionnaires' Disease Outbreak Emerges In Six Months

Carmarthen Becomes Latest Area To Be Hit By Illness

12.10.2012

Specialist lawyers representing the families of 4 members of the public who died and 48 people who became ill following major Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in Edinburgh and Stoke-on-Trent in recent months have repeated their calls for a public inquiry as concerns grow about a fresh outbreak of the fatal illness in Carmarthen.

Public Health Wales has confirmed that five people have now had hospital treatment after contracting Legionnaires’ in the town, with the organisation investigating alongside Carmarthenshire County Council’s Environment Health department and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

News of the outbreak has come just weeks after illness experts at Irwin Mitchell called for a public inquiry into major Legionnaires’ outbreaks in Stoke-on-Trent and Edinburgh, on behalf of the victims and the families of those who died that have called on the law firm to help them in their search for answers.

Clive Garner, head of Irwin Mitchell’s team of illness lawyers who has helped dozens of people affected by outbreaks of Legionnaires’ in the UK and abroad, said the emergence of a third outbreak in just six months was a major cause for concern  and urgent steps were necessary.

He said: “The outbreaks in Stoke and Edinburgh affected more than 100 people and were also linked to the deaths of five members of the public, which illustrates the terrible impact that Legionnaires Disease can have on so many people.

“To see another outbreak of this disease now emerge in Carmarthen is a hugely worrying development and we call upon Public Health Wales, the HSE and the local authorities to work quickly and thoroughly to locate the source of the outbreak and to prevent any other members of the public becoming ill.

“Legionella bacteria, which are spread by contaminated aerosol or water droplets, are typically from sources such as air conditioning units, hot water systems and showers or, as implicated in the recent outbreak in Stoke, sources like hot tubs. There are clear guidelines which set out simple, basic and easy to follow steps which  should eradicate the risk of Legionella infection occurring. This is not rocket science and the number of recent serious outbreaks should now cause alarm bells to be ringing for those who have responsibility for public health. 

“The fact that this is the third outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the UK in a matter of months simply cannot go unnoticed. It is time that a full public inquiry is held.  The terms of reference of the Inquiry should be as wide as possible and there should be detailed consideration of the causes and the investigation into each of the recent outbreaks. This should include the adequacy and effectiveness of preventative measures and steps to improve them including enhanced education and oversight, the reactions by the HSE and local authorities and an assessment of the coordination of regulatory bodies.

“We are concerned that rather than significant improvements, there has been a recent reduction in measures to protect the public. For instance, the number of inspections of cooling towers – which are often found to be a source of Legionnaires disease were effectively been halved last year. It is also a matter of significant concern that even the HSE are uncertain about the number of cooling towers in operation and are forced to rely on estimates.

“Many of our clients affected by recent outbreaks of Legionnaires’ have had their lives altered, many of them permanently. The loss of loved ones has been particularly harrowing and distressing, while many of those we represent have themselves suffered severe illness which they simply should not have had to endure. As well as wanting justice for themselves and their families, our clients want to know exactly why they became ill and they want reassurances that improvements will be made in Legionella prevention so that others will not have to go through what they have suffered.”

Advice on Legionnaires’ disease has been circulated to health professionals in the Carmarthen region, while anyone worried about symptoms has been advised to contact their GP.

Garner added: “We have called several times for a public inquiry and in the light of this most recent outbreak in Carmarthen we expect the Government to act without any further delay.”