Nearly £17million of taxpayers’ money will be spent across Scotland combating deadly legionella bacteria.
Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges (APUC) have issued a new contract asking for water treatment measures that could prevent outbreaks of Legionnaires disease.
In June this year three people died and 101 people were affected by an outbreak of the disease that gripped Edinburgh.
APUC are acting on behalf of all councils, fire and police services and educational institutions in the country – but hospitals and health centres are not included.
There have been calls that if the next company fail to carry out maintenance duties then they “should be prosecuted”.
The contract asks for “water quality management services, not only for the control of legionella but also including other coliforms and biofilms.
“Services will include Risk Assessment, sampling and subsequent reporting, treatment and maintenance of water systems.”
Coliforms and biofilms are harmless organisms that also appear in water supplies – but if a high number are found then it indicates legionella could be present.
Legionnaires is a potentially fatal lung infection, similar to pneumonia, that is contracted by breathing in contaminated water vapour.
It was believed the Edinburgh outbreak was caused by factory cooling towers in the south-west of the city, although this was never confirmed.
The contract was published on the same day that renewed pleas for an inquiry were made by Irwin Mitchell – the personal injury lawyers representing those affected by the Edinburgh outbreak.
Terry Holleran, 55, one of the Legionnaires victims who is seeking legal action, said the council are just trying to “rush through a clean up” operation.
He said: “I still haven’t recovered from catching the illness in June. I am unable to walk, I suffer from memory loss and I have lost the hearing in my right ear.
“The fact that they are cleaning is a good thing. But it looks to me like the council are trying to rush through a big clean up so they don’t have to answer tough questions or be held responsible for anything.
“It looks like a panic – if there were people doing their job in the first place then the outbreak never would have happened.”
Elaine Russell, a supervising partner at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Issuing a £17m tender for this work and still offering no answers or information to the Scottish public is simply unacceptable.
“This has come too late for the many victims affected. We call upon the Scottish Government to confirm why this tender is being issued now and if this is a direct result of the outbreak in Edinburgh earlier this year.
“Adequate steps to ensure the protection of the health and wellbeing of the Scottish public are all very commendable and necessary but it is simply too late in the day for those injured and tragically killed as a result of the outbreak in May.
“Our clients are still waiting for answers to their questions.”
Professor Hugh Pennington, a leading microbiologist, said that the families of those who died and those affected by Edinburgh’s outbreak should take the news of the contract as “a good sign”.
He said: “It definitely sounds like it’s off the back of the Edinburgh outbreak. Since then I think there’s been an issue about the public trusting their services.
“This notice seems irregular and quite speedy. Official action usually happens after some kind of hearing, or in some cases, fatal accidents inquiries.
“Nevertheless it’s a good sign that action is being taken and hopefully its seen as such.
“But this time I would like to think whoever is in charge of maintenance does their job properly and anyone who fails in doing so should be prosecuted.”
Prof Pennington also said that the Health and Safety Executive should keep an eye on the private sector for contamination.
He added: “It’s interesting that the NHS and medical centres don’t appear on the list. One of the big issues with legionella is that it can affect people with underlying health conditions even more, so it suggests they take their own preventative measures.”
An APUC spokesperson said: “We would like to stress that this contract notice is not a new system, nor is it anything to do with the Legionnaires outbreak from June.
“This is a collaborative procurement exercise designed to deliver the provision of a quality service whilst achieving best value for the organisations involved.
“Also, the £17million is an estimate – it is the values of the frame work over a four year period.”
Edinburgh City Council only said: “The contract is a matter for APUC as they have issued the contract.”