Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 16:55 UK

C.diff deaths inquiry announced

Vale of Leven Hospital
The Vale of Leven Hospital was the focus of the C.diff outbreak

Scotland's health secretary has ordered an independent public inquiry into a fatal outbreak of Clostridium difficile at a Dunbartonshire hospital.

A total of 55 people at the Vale of Leven hospital were affected by the infection, and 18 patients died, between December 2007 and June 2008.

An initial review of procedures at the hospital found "inadequate" infection controls.

The inquiry will be chaired by former High Court judge Lord Coulsfield.

It will get under way after investigations currently being carried out by police, the Health and Safety Executive and prosecutors have been completed.

Nothing can bring back the 18 people who died during this outbreak, but I hope holding a public inquiry will offer some comfort and reassurance
Nicola Sturgeon
Scottish health secretary

The Crown Office is expected to make a decision by the end of June on whether there will be criminal proceedings.

Families who lost loved ones in the outbreak welcomed the decision - while Labour branded it a "climbdown".

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon - who has never ruled out a public inquiry - previously expressed concern that pressing ahead with one could cause problems for the on-going police probe.

She said significant improvements at the hospital, overseen by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, had been made since the incident.

But she said there was further room for improvement, adding: "Nothing can bring back the 18 people who died during this outbreak, but I hope holding a public inquiry will offer some comfort and reassurance to families that lessons have been learned."

Clostridium difficile (C.diff) was identified as the primary cause of death in nine patients and a contributory factor in another nine.

Michelle Stewart, whose mother-in-law Sarah McGinty was one of the victims, said the announcement was a "tremendous victory".

She added: "A public inquiry will mean we can finally put the matter to rest because, at last, we will know the truth about how our loved ones died."

'Full involvement'

Ms Stewart, also secretary of the families' C.diff Justice Group, said: "It will mean no other families will have to go through the agonies we have all suffered since the outbreak started claiming lives 18 months ago."

Ms Sturgeon promised to report back to parliament at a later date on the scope of the inquiry, but Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie said there had already been too many delays.

"This parliament called for a public inquiry last September," he said.

"It has taken the health secretary more than six months just to announce an inquiry - but she can't tell us what this inquiry will look at."

Labour health spokeswoman Cathy Jamieson said: "Scottish Labour has welcomed the fact Nicola Sturgeon has finally bowed to pressure and announced a public inquiry on C.difficile.

"It is shameful the families had to wait so long for this climbdown."

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, whose Dumbarton constituency takes in the Vale of Leven, welcomed the announcement.

But she added: "We now need to ensure that the families are fully involved in the inquiry and that broad lessons are learned to make our hospitals safer."

The Tories' Jackson Carlaw said the Scottish Government's approach was sensible, adding: "With a police investigation underway, Scottish Conservatives took the view the announcement of a public inquiry would better follow than precede the conclusion of that police investigation."

The move was welcomed by nursing body RCN Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon, who recently announced 600 extra cleaners were to be taken on by the NHS, has made the issue of hospital cleanliness her top priority.

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