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Clostridium difficile preliminary court hearing held

Relatives of 18 people who died from the hospital superbug at the Vale of Leven Hospital were in court for the summary.

Hospital bug: Vale of Leven hospital

A preliminary court hearing has been held into the deaths of patients from Clostridium difficile at the Vale of Leven Hospital.

On Monday, relatives of 18 people who died in a hospital bug outbreak said a public inquiry into the deaths now seemed a "reality" as a start date for the hearing was set. Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon ordered the probe into the Clostridium difficile deaths at the hospital in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire, last year.

A total of 55 patients were struck down by the bug between December 2007 and June 2008. C diff was blamed for nine of the deaths and was said to be a contributory factor in the other nine.

At the preliminary hearing in Dumbarton, chairman Lord MacLean said the inquiry will start on June 7 this year. Speaking after the announcement, Michelle Stewart, whose mother-in-law Sarah McGinty was one of those who died, said: "We feel as though this is the first step, it's become a reality now.

"Things are actually starting to happen. The last two years we've fought for this. Going in today, sitting in court, hearing Lord MacLean speak, makes it a reality."

The oral hearings for the inquiry will last for four weeks, followed by a second block at the end of August for around eight weeks. Earlier this month it was announced the probe would also look into the handling of a C diff outbreak at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee last year.

Five people died during that incident, with the infection killing two patients and contributing to the deaths of three others. Speaking at the preliminary hearing at Dumbarton Sheriff Court, Lord MacLean said: "The terms of reference, however, make it clear that the focus of the inquiry is principally on the Vale and the deaths that occurred there.

"They do not permit me to look at other outbreaks in depth and the inquiry's current standing timescale would not be achievable if they did. However, the inquiry will consider the handling of other instances of C difficile infection and these will include the outbreak at Ninewells Hospital last year.

"I will not look at the causes of that outbreak or the circumstances of deaths at Ninewells, but rather at the way in which the outbreak was handled."

Lord MacLean told the filled courtroom to forget what they had seen on television about court cases. He said: "There will be no dock, no accused, no jury. No pitting of one side against the other. An inquiry is inquisitorial in nature.

"So, our questions will be about finding out what happened, why it happened and, importantly, how to make a difference for the future."

Angela Grahame QC, representing Greater Glasgow health board, told the court that evidence about the "considerable changes" which had been made since the outbreak at the Vale of Leven Hospital will be presented to the inquiry.

She told the court: "As a result of these improvements the Health Protection Scotland national report, published in January this year, shows that the rate of C diff infection in Greater Glasgow and Clyde in the over-65s is well below the 2011 national target and almost 65% lower than it was between January and March 2008."

She said the health board also expressed its "deepest sympathies" to the families of those who died in the outbreak. Lord MacLean said the hearings would be open to the public "wherever possible" and he hoped to publish a report on the inquiry by the end of May next year.

The inquiry will take place at Maryhill Community Central Hall in Glasgow.

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