Taxpayers hit with £10m bill for superbug probe

C difficile contributed to 28 Vale of Leven hospital deaths. Picture: Donald MacLeod
C difficile contributed to 28 Vale of Leven hospital deaths. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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The cost of a long-delayed inquiry into a deadly outbreak of clostridium difficile at a Scottish hospital has more than doubled from initial estimates, to stand at almost £10 million, The Scotsman can reveal.

The Vale of Leven hospital inquiry was at first given a price tag of up to £4m – but is now projected to cost £9.9m, with the potential for the expense to rise even further.

The figures, released by the Scottish Government after a Freedom of Information request, were called “eye-watering” by opposition politicians, who criticised delays to the inquiry. There is still no date for publication of the final report of the inquiry, which began in 2009 and had been expected to report by May 2011.

The inquiry, chaired by Lord MacLean, has been investigating the treatment of 63 patients at the Vale of Leven hospital in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire, between 1 December 2007 and 1 June 2008, of whom 31 died.

C difficile infection was identified as the cause of death or a contributory factor in 28 cases.

The inquiry was launched in October 2009, with the first hearing taking place in February 2010. The last hearings were held in June 2012. But the inquiry’s final report has been repeatedly delayed due to factors including a period of illness suffered by the chairman and the issuing of warning letters to those facing criticism taking longer than 

After it was delayed for a fifth time in February, having been due to report this March, The Scotsman asked for the costs, which have not previously been made public, to be released.

The Scottish Government said initial estimates were that the inquiry would cost up to £4m if completed by October 2010.

By the end of January this year, the cost had leapt to £9.5m.

The Scottish Government said Lord MacLean informed health secretary Alex Neil the inquiry had reached a critical point in the warning letter process and until the process was complete, he was unable to provide a date for publishing the final report.

“Therefore, as the inquiry is still ongoing, we are only able to provide the latest projected figure [of costs] we have from the inquiry team, which is £9.9m,” their response said.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, whose constituency covers the Vale of Leven, said: “This figure is eye-watering. Families of those who died will find this revelation merely compounds their distress. Now we know almost £10m will be spent, and to have its findings delayed for so long, we need to ensure such inquiries work better in future.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw added: “Any inquiry must be granted time to gather relevant information and produce an informed response. It is, however, utterly inexcusable for there to be continual delays and for the costs to continue to rise.”

Scotland Patients Association chair Margaret Watt said the costs were “obscene”. She added: “This amount of money being spent is unbelievable. They should be pushing to get a final report from this inquiry.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Lord 
MacLean will publish all costs on the Vale of Leven inquiry when it has reported.”

Julie-Anne Jamieson, secretary to Vale of Leven Hospital Inquiry, said: “The warning letter process is nearing completion and an announcement on a reporting date will be made shortly.”