The revelation came during a Health and Sport Committee meeting at Holyrood investigating the way authorities responded to Edinburgh’s legionnaires’ outbreak, which has so far claimed two lives.
Patient groups and politicians from across the political spectrum are now calling for the policy to be revised.
Mike Crockart, Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh West, said he was “astounded” a firm would not have a legal responsibility to flag up a positive test for legionella to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
He said: “I’m surprised that, when faced with a public health issue, any company would choose to keep life-threatening information to themselves but I’m astounded that, if the evidence to the Health and Sport committee is correct, a company wouldn’t even have a legal responsibility to inform the HSE.
“This outbreak has cost two lives, it would be tragic if treatment of any further outbreak were delayed by a company’s reticence to own up to a problem.”
Sarah Boyack, Lothians Labour MSP, said the stark admission had “raised eyebrows” and recommended the introduction of surprise inspections to prevent a future outbreak before calling for a re-examination of the controversial policy.
The move came just two days after former chancellor Alistair Darling, MP for Edinburgh South West, called for a rethink of the legionella inspection regime for cooling towers.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw echoed this view and said any watchdog is “toothless if no-one has to tell them anything”.
Margaret Watt, of the Scotland Patient Association, said a review should “definitely” be conducted into the policy.
“Why should companies get off scot-free?” she said. “It should be mandatory [to inform the authorities].”
At the Health and Sport committee meeting, Pam Waldron, HSE director in Scotland, explained that companies may find it difficult to comply with guidance to prevent outbreaks of potentially deadly legionnaires’ disease.
“There is concern that compliance with the approved code of practice appears to be creating some problem, not just in Scotland but more broadly,” she said.
“We are actually reviewing our approved codes of practice at the moment. We have commissioned research by the health and safety laboratory into the last ten years of outbreaks so that we can see what lessons need to learned from that.
“That piece of work reports to HSE’s legionella committee on Thursday and the issue about compliance when we look to see what the standards are will be something that we need to look at very carefully.”
A total of 95 people have contracted legionnaires’ disease since the outbreak began in May. Investigations into the source centre on a cluster of cooling towers in Wheatfield Road, according to the team monitoring the outbreak.
Ms Waldron defended her organisation’s role, arguing that inspectors should not have to make regular visits to ensure safety regimes are being followed.
Grandmother remains in coma
A GRANDMOTHER who was airlifted 300 miles to Leicester Royal Infirmary after being struck down with legionnaire’s disease remains today in a medically-induced coma.
Anne Bennett, above, 60, from Gorgie Road, began developing symptoms last week but her condition rapidly deteriorated, resulting in her having to be placed in a medically-induced coma.
Her daughter, Leanne Rae, said she remains sedated and incubated in order to boost her chances of recovery.