A date has been set for an inquiry into the deaths of 18 people in a hospital infection outbreak.

Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon ordered the probe into the C difficile deaths at Vale of Leven Hospital in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire, last year.

A total of 55 patients were struck down by the bug between December 2007 and June 2008.

C diff was blamed for nine of the deaths and was said to be a contributory factor in the other nine.

At a preliminary hearing in Dumbarton, chairman Lord MacLean said the inquiry would start on 7 June this year.

The oral hearings for the inquiry will last four weeks, followed by a second block at the end of August for around eight weeks.

Speaking at the preliminary hearing at Dumbarton Sheriff Court today, Lord MacLean said: “The terms of reference, however, make it clear that the focus of the inquiry is principally on the Vale and the deaths that occurred there.

“I will not look at the causes of that outbreak or the circumstances of deaths at Ninewells, but rather at the way in which the outbreak was handled.”

Angela Grahame QC, representing Greater Glasgow Health Board, told the court that evidence about the “considerable changes” that had been made since the outbreak at the Vale of Leven Hospital will be presented to the inquiry.

Ms Grahame said changes included more isolation facilities, improvements in staff training and improved handwashing facilities at the hospital.

She told the court: “As a result of these improvements the Health Protection Scotland national report, published in January this year, shows that the rate of C diff infection in Greater Glasgow and Clyde in the over-65s is well below the 2011 national target and almost 65 per cent lower than it was between January and March 2008.”

She said the health board also expressed its “deepest sympathies” to the families of those who died in the outbreak.

The inquiry will take place at Maryhill Community Central Hall in Glasgow.