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March 24, 2004

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Legionnaires’ disease fatality brings NHS Trust’s deficiencies to light

A MAN contracted legionnaires’ disease at Basildon hospital, from which he later died, Southend Crown Court heard on 27 February.

A lapse in the safety procedures of the hospital hot water system led to George Bate becoming infected with the disease when he was admitted to the cardiac unit of Basildon hospital in October 2002. Because of the rapid deterioration in his condition, Mr Bate was transferred to the London Chest Hospital, where tests revealed that he had contracted legionnaires’ disease. However, by the time the results of the tests were known, he had died.
Later tests carried out by Basildon hospital revealed high levels of legionella bacteria in sinks in the ward to which Mr Bate had been admitted. Further tests revealed that a second person had contracted the disease, but later recovered.
Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Trust was fined ?25,000 plus costs of ?12,225 after the case was sent to Crown Court by Basildon magistrates in January. The Trust pleaded guilty to a breach of s3(1) of HSWA 1974 for failing to ensure the safety of non-employees by not controlling the risk of exposure to the bacteria.
“The Trust was not prosecuted for the man death, but for failure to control the risk to patients,” HSE investigating inspector David Gregory told SHP.
In mitigation, the Trust said it had worked closely with the HSE to rectify its failings. It has since spent ?300,000 to remedy the situation and has introduced a system of stringent health and safety checks.
Gregory commented: “There is an approved code of practice for controlling the legionella bacterium, known as L8. It is important that people with responsibility for managing water practices refer to that ACoP for guidance.”
“It is not the case that the legionella bacterium only exists in cooling towers,” Gregory added. “It exists in large water systems, such as those in hotels, hospitals and care homes, and vulnerable groups, such as patients, are at particular risk. Mr Bate death brought to light the deficiencies. We would have prosecuted the Trust even if he had not died.”

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