‘Authorities Must Act’ As Croydon Becomes Latest Area Affected By Legionnaires

Experts Acting For Victims Of Recent Outbreaks Demand Public Inquiry And Safety Improvements

05.09.2013

By Rob Dixon

Lawyers representing more than 50 victims of major Legionnaires’ outbreaks in Stoke-on-Trent and Edinburgh last year, are once again demanding a Public Inquiry in the light of recent cases of Legionnaires Disease in Croydon.

Public Health England, Croydon Council and Croydon Health Services are undertaking a joint investigation into the problems affecting four people confirmed to be suffering from Legionnaires’ disease, who have received treatment at Croydon University Hospital.

Irwin Mitchell’s expert illness lawyers already represent more than 35 victims of the fatal Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Edinburgh last year, including families of four people who died, as well as 16 others who suffered illness as a result of a similar outbreak in Stoke-on-Trent.

Last month also marked the 11th anniversary of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Barrow-in-Furness, which affected 180 people and led to seven deaths, with the source found to be a badly maintained air conditioning unit at a leisure centre.

Two public meetings were held in 2006 following this outbreak and a report was published suggesting six general recommendations, including enhanced advice about training, communication and risk assessments, to prevent a repeat of the Barrow tragedy.

Irwin Mitchell today repeated their calls for a Public Inquiry to consider matters including:

  • The causes of recent outbreaks and how they were managed
  • How the outbreaks were investigated
  • Any potential regulatory problems which exist such as the lack of co-ordination between the various regulatory bodies
  • The training for Environmental Health Officers and the HSE inspectors and both the frequency and quality of their inspections
  • What has changed since the Barrow incident and if any new lessons can be learned from the recent outbreaks

Clive Garner, Head of Group Actions at Irwin Mitchell, has represented victims of Legionnaires’ disease from numerous incidents around the world.

Garner said today: “In the light of these latest cases of Legionnaires disease in Croydon, we are reiterating our calls for a Public Inquiry to be held to investigate all aspects of the management of the recent outbreaks, as well as to review the procedures, processes and training in place to ensure that legionella bacteria is effectively managed.

“Eleven years ago, the Barrow Legionnaires’ disease outbreak was so significant that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a special report with a view to avoiding this kind of tragedy from happening again.

“Despite the good intentions, in 2011, the number of confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease in England and Wales stood at 235. While this is a welcome reduction on previous years, it remains an unacceptably high figure bearing in mind how simple it is to eliminate the risk of infection.

“Now in 2013, and following recent large outbreaks in Stoke-on-Trent, Edinburgh and Glasgow which together have affected over 100 people, comes news of four cases of the disease in Croydon.

“We urge the government to hold a Public Inquiry to investigate what has gone wrong in these and other recent outbreaks and, just as importantly, to determine what lessons  can be learned to reduce the risk of similar outbreaks of this deadly disease occurring in the future.

“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.

“Our clients want to know what has caused their suffering and the loss of their loved ones and they want assurances that all reasonable steps are being taken so that others are spared what they have had to go through.”

A spokesman for Public Health England’s London branch has said part of the work includes looking at the history of the movements of each patient, although the body has suggested that two of the cases are “definitely unrelated”.

The team are now urging authorities to work quickly to determine the cause of the latest infections as well as reiterating their concerns that more still needs to be done in terms of guidance on the prevention of outbreaks.

Mr Garner added: “While it is unwise to speculate on the cause of the problems in Croydon, it is undeniable that comprehensive guidance is available related to the control and management of legionella bacteria and if followed properly this should prevent infection.

“Having seen first-hand the impact that Legionnaires’ disease has had on so many lives, including the families of those who have lost their battles with the illness, it is absolutely vital that authorities get a grip on these problems as soon as possible.

“It is unacceptable that people are being affected by an illness which could and should be avoided and while the cause of the latest cases in Croydon still has to be identified, our view remains that a wide ranging Public Inquiry is the first step towards reducing the risk this potentially fatal disease presents to the members of the public”

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