Hospital 'failed patients'

A hospital which was criticised over high mortality rates failed to protect patients from a chronic and fatal legionella infestation, a court has heard.

James Compton and Raymond Cackett died after contracting Legionnaires' disease at Basildon Hospital

A hospital which was criticised over high mortality rates failed to protect patients from a chronic and fatal legionella infestation, a court has heard.

James Compton, 74, from Billericay, died in 2007, and Raymond Cackett, 54, from South Ockendon, died in 2010 after contracting Legionnaires' disease at Basildon Hospital.

Six other patients were infected at the Essex hospital - one of 14 named by NHS England medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh's report into abnormally high numbers of deaths - during the same period.

The hospital has admitted failings under the Health and Safety at Work Act and bosses appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court for sentencing.

Opening the case, prosecutor Pascal Bates said the hospital had been battling the disease - a serious lung infection caused by legionella bacteria which is common in water systems - for up to 15 years.

But despite a previous prosecution following the 2002 death of George Bate, 77, managers took insufficient steps to protect the public, the court heard.

Mr Bates said: "This wasn't a situation where for a brief period of time the hospital followed advice from a particular consultant which later turned out to be wrong.

"This was a lengthy period of time during which the hospital fell short of its responsibilities and failed its patients.

"In the 2002 case, specific problems, including not taking fully into account the findings of risk assessments, were identified and those remain characteristics of the more recent cases."

Patients Egbert Van Nuil, Lyn Kilshaw, Roy Leech, Joyce Limbert, Francis Nutt and Verona Hughes also contracted the disease between 2006 and 2007.

Mr Leech and Ms Kilshaw later died at the hospital. Their deaths were not attributed to Leigionnaires' but others "nearly died" as a result of infection, Mr Bates said.

The hospital cut spending on chemical treatment of the water system in 2006 and 2007 in an "inappropriate cost saving measure".

Shower heads and thermostatic mixing valves, which can contribute to the spread of legionella, were not properly cleaned.

Other errors included "super heating" hot water pipes in an attempt to kill the bug - a measure which could have inadvertently caused the bacteria to proliferate in cold water pipes which ran alongside.

The court heard that subsequent risk assessments may have been an exercise in minimising legal culpability rather than protecting patients.

"Whatever the purpose of these assessments, it was not enhancing safety management," Mr Bates said.

The situation had improved by 2010, when Mr Cackett died, but the hospital was still not providing adequate protection, he added.

Iain Daniels, mitigating on behalf of the Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "The hospital apologises unreservedly for the chronic colonisation of its water systems over this period.

"The hospital would wish to extend its apology publicly, particularly for the deaths of Mr Compton and Mr Cackett, but also to those who acquired Legionnaires' disease but did not die.

"The trust acknowledges it failed to provide a safe environment but this has not been through a want of effort, funds or desire."

There have been no Legionnaries' infections at Basildon Hospital since 2011, when a new chief executive was appointed, the court heard.

The hospital, which is also due to be sentenced over an elderly patient who was badly injured after falling from a window last year, has pleaded guilty to failing to protect patients and visitors between February 28, 2004, and December 31, 2010.

Judge David Turner is expected to deliver his final sentencing decision tomorrow.