Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals Foundation Trust has been ordered to pay fines and costs of £350,000 for failing to ensure the safety of its patients.
This follows Basildon Hospital’s admission that it failed to protect patients and visitors, after the death from Legionnaires’ disease of two patients between 2007 and 2010, and the infection of six others.
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 a death in 2002, managers had taken insufficient steps to protect the public, the court heard. Shower heads and thermostatic valves were not properly cleaned, the budget to chemically kill the bacteria was cut and attempts to tackle the disease by “super heating” hot pipes may have backfired by warming cold pipes, causing the bacteria to proliferate.
Vincent Borg, UNISON’s assistant national health and safety officer, said that the case demonstrates “that there can be no short cuts to ensuring health and safety. Budget cuts and a reduction of services must not put the lives of patients, visitors, or employees at risk. It also once again demonstrates the nonsense around the idea that supposedly low risk workplaces need not be inspected by the enforcement agencies.”
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) this trust had received numerous warnings from regulators and consultants.
In response to two recent consultation documents, UNISON raised concerns that in the proposals useful reminders, checklists, and guidance to employers had been removed. In a response to a proposed redraft of the HSE code and guidance on Legionnaires we highlighted concerns that a reminder to consider risks during maintenance had been omitted, as had suggested frequencies for carrying out certain checks. This recent case demonstrates the need for employers to be given such support and advice.
The union made a similar point in our response to the HSE consultation on controlling other hazardous substances. To ensure the health and safety of members of the public and visitors, as well as their workers; employers need support and guidance on what they should do, when they should do it, and how. And repeated or serious failures, as in this case should be prosecuted.