Officials defend time lapse in announcing Legionnaires'
Public Health Wales (PHW) has defended its decision to delay alerting the public to the Legionnaires' outbreak.
Doctors were told about the outbreak in the Heads of the Valleys area on 3 September but the authorities did not inform people until four days later.
A Merthyr GP is among those questioning the time lapse during which 11 cases were linked to the outbreak of the disease and a woman died.
PHW denies accusations of unnecessary delays and says it acted in good time.
Dr Gwen Lowe, a consultant in communicable disease control for PHW, told BBC Wales' Week In Week Out the delay was necessary so the health protection team could accurately assess the situation.
She said: "The reason why we delayed the public announcement of the outbreak was to allow our clinical colleagues and our GP colleagues to have that information to enable them to act, to make sure we had all the relevant information that we needed.
"You can imagine that once you declare an area you're interested in, people's recall of where they have been actually becomes a bit muddied by the information that is in the public domain.
"It's very helpful to get the true and accurate information from the people who have been ill before they are aware we are investigating the cluster in a certain area.
"It was to allow us to continue with our investigations, to ensure all our clinical colleagues were up to speed, to give them all the advice about what to do if people presented with illnesses that were compatible with legionella disease and to make sure we had all the information we needed," Dr Lowe added.
However, some GPs, including Dr Jonathan Richards, have raised concerns over the length of time to inform the public.
He said: "My own view is it is always helpful to make the public aware there is a concern. I don't know why the public weren't informed at the same time as GPs.
"These are difficult judgements to make as you have to say, 'do we alarm the public if we don't know enough?' and 'how important is it that we do inform the public?'
Dr David Bailey, who is chair of the British Medical Association's GP committee for Wales and works as a GP in Caerphilly, said knowing when to inform the public was a difficult call to make.
End Quote Dr David Bailey BMA GP committee for Wales
Patients are absolutely entitled to know if there is an outbreak in their area so they too can consider possibilities of whether they have been exposed”
He said: "Generally speaking I would support erring on the side of informing the public because I think that's always the sensible and safe way to go, but I do have a certain amount of sympathy for people who don't want to unnecessarily alarm members of the public when they are at no risk at all.
"Patients are absolutely entitled to know if there is an outbreak in their area so they too can consider possibilities of whether they have been exposed."
Three people have now died in south Wales this month from Legionnaires' disease but only one death is linked to the current outbreak- that of a 49-year-old woman on Sunday evening.
A 70-year-old man and a woman, 64, from Pontypridd also died of the disease last week.
That makes a total of 19 people with Legionnaires' identified as being linked to the outbreak.
The outbreak area is the corridor 12km (7.5 miles) either side of the Heads of the Valleys road between Abergavenny in Monmouthshire and Llandarcy in Neath Port Talbot.
Joan Evans of Pontlottyn, near Rhymney, Caerphilly, told Week In Week Out she had not idea how she had contracted Legionnaires'.
"I thought I had a stomach bug or something until we had the out-of hours doctor out on the Sunday night and he said I had a chest infection.
"We had to get my own doctor on Tuesday who said I had pneumonia on one side and questioned Legionnaires' disease.
"It was unbelievable, I could not believe it."
Week In Week Out is broadcast on BBC One Wales at 1930 BST on Wednesday 15 September.