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Hospital bug death was ‘accidental’
6:00pm Monday 23rd September 2013 in News
A JURY said a pensioner’s death from Legionnaires’ disease at Basildon Hospital was accidental.
The Chelmsford Coroner Court jury returned a narrative verdict in the case of Violet Shirmer, but said hospital staff had followed correct guidelines and so it was an accident.
Mrs Shirmer, 80, of Beams Way, Billericay, contracted the bug during a stay in the Elesdon Ward in August 2011. She had originally gone in for treatment on a stomach ulcer. The ward’s water pipes were later found to be riddled with deadly legionella bacteria. Mrs Shirmer picked up the bug because a valve that should have allowed used hot water to flow off the ward was virtually closed. This caused water to stagnate in the system and drop below 50 degrees to 42 degrees, creating a breeding ground for the bacteria.
A hospital investigation was unable to establish why or when the valve became locked off.
Rob Speight, hospital trust deputy director of estates, said records showed such “return flow valves” had never been looked at since the trust took over the building in the Eighties.
He said: “We followed the guidelines and these were not a repair or maintenance item. We tested the water as it came in, as per the guidance, and it was over 50 degrees, on some occasions it was too hot.” The Health and Safety Executive has twice previously prosecuted the hospital for failings in legionella control, which resulted in three deaths.
However, the HSE’s own guidelines were criticised at the inquest as it emerged the guidance, written in 2000, did not recommend testing the temperature of “return pipes” taking used hot water away from a ward or the flow valves.
The HSE’s Paul Sankey said these checks were being written into a new version of the guidelines in the light of Mrs Shirmer’s death. He said the hospital had followed guidance at the time.
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