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Elevated levels of legionella bacteria have been discovered in parts of the cold water system in the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway.

A formal incident has been declared following testing during essential maintenance work. However, legionella, which causes a potentially serious lung disease, has not been found in the drinking water system.

NHS Western Isles has sought to allay fears, commenting yesterday (Wednesday November 23): “All necessary immediate actions have been taken, including three-times daily flushing of the water system throughout the hospital and the provision of bottled water for toothbrushing.”

Several sinks have also been taken out of use and replaced by temporary portable sinks to provide handwashing without the need for plumbing. Point-of-use filters are being fitted to outlets as an additional precaution.

A spokesperson said: “NHS Western Isles will continue to undertake regular sampling to check levels. Once the valve replacement programme is complete next month, full decontamination of the cold water system will be carried out.

“Whilst the risk of contracting Legionnaires Disease is extremely low, patient safety is always our priority, which is why we have implemented robust measures.

“These findings do not impact on patient care, although additional precautions are in place to reduce exposure to aerosolised water.”

In the meantime, the situation is being closely monitored on a daily basis by a formal incident management team.

According to NHS Western Isles, elevated levels of Legionella are not uncommon across the country, and the team locally are experienced in managing such events.