A KEY report into a deadly outbreak of Clostridium difficile at a Scottish hospital has been delayed for a fifth time, angering campaigners.
The Vale of Leven Inquiry report was due to be published in May 2011, but following a series of delays, including illness suffered by the chairman, was put back until March this year.
Now a further delay has been announced as the inquiry team waits for responses from those expected to be criticised in the report.
A publication date has not yet been finalised.
Relatives of the victims have expressed dismay at the time it has taken to produce the report as more than six years have passed since the outbreak at the West Dunbartonshire hospital which claimed at least 28 lives.
In a statement, the inquiry team said that chairman Lord MacLean had written to health secretary Alex Neil in December to inform him that a key element of the process would not be completed in sufficient time to allow the report to be published by March.
Under the legislation, the chairman must issue a warning letter to any individual or organisation likely to be the subject of significant or explicit criticism in his report.
The statement said these letters provided the person or organisation concerned with a reasonable opportunity to consider and respond to any criticism, and the chairman had to consider these responses before finalising his report.
Julie-Anne Jamieson, secretary to Vale of Leven Hospital Inquiry, said: “By its very nature, the process of preparing warning letters, waiting for responses to the letters and then reviewing these in detail is a very complex and time consuming one.
“Lord MacLean fully recognises the disappointment that this delay will cause to patients and relatives who are understandably anxious to hear the inquiry’s findings and he is keen to publish his report as soon as possible.”
The inquiry has been investigating the treatment of 63 patients at Vale of Leven Hospital between 1 December, 2007 and 1 June, 2008, of whom 31 patients died. Of these deaths, C difficile infection was identified as cause of death or a contributory factor in 28 cases.
Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie said the delay was “utterly unacceptable”.
“It’s now over six years since the C.diff outbreak started so it’s important that the families of those who died get the answers they deserve,” the Labour MSP said.
“I appreciate that the inquiry needs time to gather all the evidence required to produce an informed report but this is simply not good enough. We need to know what happened and learn lessons so that it doesn’t ever happen again.”
Michelle McGinty, whose mother-in-law died in the outbreak and who has campaigned on behalf of the C.Diff Families Justice Group, said: “It is really upsetting for families to get the news that this inquiry will be delayed for a fifth time.
“Families are now going through the heartache of the sixth anniversary of their loved ones’ deaths, while still receiving no answers to the public inquiry they fought so hard to get. It makes us even more angry that this delay doesn’t even have another timeline attached. Will we ever get the answers we so desperately need to finally finish grieving?”