Fresh fears for poisoning victims

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The condition of 17 victims of the E-coli food poisoning outbreak in central Scotland was giving health officials serious cause for concern last night. It is also feared that a number of other patients being treated in hospital could soon deteriorate.

So far, 262 people have reported symptoms of food poisoning. Despite hopes that the number of people falling victim to the poisoned meat may have reached its peak - after claiming five lives - doctors are concerned at the rising number of patients whose condition shows signs of deteriorating.

The number of cases of patients now said to be giving "cause for concern" rose yesterday from nine to 17 across the affected region. A 60-year-old woman remained in a "critical" condition in Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Dr Martin Donaghy, consultant in public health at Lanarkshire Health Board, said: "We must be prepared, due to the delay in the serious effects of the bacterium, for more of the patients currently being treated giving cause for concern over the next few days."

Meanwhile, one more outlet supplied with cooked meat from the Wishaw butcher at the centre of the alert, John M Barr & Son, was named yesterday, bringing the total to 67. Shawhead Post Office, Coatbridge, was supplied by Barr's with ham and roast beef.

There has been speculation that the cause of the outbreak had been traced to knives used in the butcher's shop. Health experts were said to believe that the outbreak was caused by shop workers allegedly cross-contaminating food with bacteria from infected raw meat.

It was also revealed yesterday that Labour is to raise with the Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, an alleged discrepancy in what the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, told the Commons last week about the poisoning crisis.

The shadow Scottish secretary, George Robertson, said that Mr Forsyth told MPs that it had been up to the Lanarkshire Health Board to release the list of outlets supplied by John M Barr & Son. Mr Robertson said the minister's statement on Thursday conflicted with a leaked letter from a Scottish Office official telling health board officials that the list should be kept "confidential and should not be distributed further".

The Labour Party has not accused Mr Forsyth of deliberately misleading the Commons, but hopes to draw an apology from him this week.