Families of the victims of the C-Diff outbreak at Vale of Leven Hospital have welcomed the support of the Scottish Parliament's influential Public Petitions Committee for their call for an immediate public inquiry.
The Petitions Committee held a special session in John Wheatley College in Easterhouse, Glasgow on Tuesday January 27, and heard evidence from relatives whose loved ones were among the 18 victims of the outbreak.
Solicitor Advocate Patrick McGuire of Thompsons Solicitors who represents the families' C.diff Justice Group also gave evidence, arguing that a public inquiry could get up and running right away without prejudicing any police inquiry.
Michelle Stewart whose mother-in-law Sarah McGinty was one of the victims and David Chandler whose father in law Alister Johnston also died, won the support of MSPs for a petition urging the Scottish Government to launch "with immediate effect" an independent public inquiry into the Vale of Leven outbreak so lessons could be learned for the future.
Michelle Stewart, who is Secretary of the C.diff Justice Group told MSPs: "We think systems at the hospita totally failed - that's why this bug was allowed to run rampant for six months.
"Nobody detected it was going on, nobody detected how many people were catching it, and until this became obvious in a newspaper, even the families of those affected did not realise it would end up being probably one of the biggest outbreaks Scotland has ever had.
"None of our questions have been answered about why our loved ones caught this bug, why they were able to catch it, why they weren't isolated, why proper procedures weren`t put in place, and why systems totally failed in the Vale of Leven Hospital."
Ms Stewart challenged the MSPs: "Every single one of us here is at some point this year going to have a family member in hospital.
"Are you willing to take the risk that things are not in place for them?"
A police investigation would focus on whether there were to be charges, but not on the changes needed to make the system safe, she said.
And she argued the C.diff outbreak had created a climate of fear.
"Members of the public have come us to us saying 'I've cancelled hospital appointments because I'm terrified - not by the operation, but terrified that I'm not coming home'," she said:
"We have heard folk aged 80 saying if I collapse, don't take me to hospital, just leave me on the floor - that's how scared they are.
"Prosecutions aren't going to make a difference to what's happening in the hospitals."
Mr Chandler told the committee: "It's absolutely vital that the public inquiry starts as soon as possible.
"One of the many reasons is that people forget detail - we have to get it started."
Mr Chandler went on: "It's fine detail that's going to be so important as we go forward.
"That's the main reason we want it to start as soon as possible. There is no reason why it can't run in parallel with the criminal investigation."
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said she is "sympathetic" to the idea but an immediate inquiry could prejudice any future criminal proceedings.
Police have set up a major incident room at Dumbarton police office and have a team of 16 officers looking into the outbreak.
But Ms Stewart, Mr Chandler, and Mr McGuire argued that there was no reason why an inquiry could not be set up immediately to start the groundwork for its probe.
It could then call a halt, if necessary, to enable other legal proceedings to be completed before sitting in public.
Mr McGuire, told the MPS the only issue was that the investigation for the public inquiry must not prejudice the criminal investigation - and that was easy to achieve.
"There is no absolutely no doubt that an inquiry team could be put in place, that they could begin their investigation now, and that it would not hamper or prejudice the criminal investigations that are ongoing," he said:
After listening to the evidence, committee member and Green MSP Robin Harper said: "There was no doubt in my mind that a public inquiry is needed.
"The only question in my mind before this afternoon was whether it would be better to wait until after the police inquiry and any subsequent prosecutions, or whether we should go to the Scottish Government now and ask for a public inquiry.
"I'm fully persuaded that we should go now."
And committee convener Frank McAveety said there was a broad consensus for that view.
After the hearing, Ms Stewart said: "The families are really pleased with the outcome, and that the committee is going to go forward to the Scottish Government and fight our case."