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Hospital officials kept deadly secret
Health officials knew a hospital was riddled with legionella for months but did not tell doctors or nurses.
Yesterday a coroner condemned the “woefully inadequate” system at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton which she said had helped accelerate the death of a patient.
Joan Ella de Torre Rayment died on November 9 2011 after catching legionella pneumonia during a three month stay at the hospital.
An inquest into her death was yesterday told Ms Rayment, from Albion Hill, Brighton, was admitted to the hospital’s Howard 2 ward in the Jubilee building in August 2011 suffering from a form of blood cancer that left her susceptible to infection.
The 78-year-old developed legionella pneumonia while on the ward and later died.
A police investigation into her death revealed the problem of high levels of legionella across the hospital was known to some staff for months but they did not tell clinical teams.
Doctors only learned of the issue when Ms Rayment became ill.
High legionella readings were detected in the hospital’s Lawson Unit, Barry Building, Tower Block, Sussex Eye Hospital and Outpatients department.
Water in the Jubilee building got “nowhere near” the 60 degree Celsius temperature needed to kill off legionella – the way the hospital tried to control the spread of bacteria.
Detective Inspector Ian Still said: “No one at the hospital seems to have identified that it was as endemic a problem as we established when we looked at it.”
Within days of Ms Rayment’s death the Health and Safety Executive ordered Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Royal Sussex, to put in a management system to effectively control legionella.
Brighton and Hove Coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley said: “There just wasn’t the hands-on control that there should have been.
“There was a department working in splendid isolation, not telling people who needed to know.
“If there was a problem that needed to be sorted at once the infection control team would close the wards down and move patients somewhere else. But the team were not enabled to do their job.”
She recorded a narrative verdict, concluding that although Ms Rayment died of natural causes her death was accelerated, partly because of catching legionella.
Sussex Police’s investigation has been discontinued.
Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals chief executive Chris Adcock said: “As soon as our infection control team became aware we had raised levels of legionella in some of our older buildings we took prompt and decisive action to eliminate the risk to patients including taking all the affected showers out of use until we were sure the levels were safe.
“We have an approved safe water management policy agreed with the Health and Safety Executive which fully complies with all their guidance.
“The procedures within this policy are reviewed daily, weekly and monthly to ensure compliance.”