Hancock promises ‘severe consequences’ if any wrongdoing over listeria deaths

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised “severe consequences” if there is evidence of “wrongdoing” following an outbreak of listeria.

Five people are suspected to have died after an outbreak of listeria in hospitals.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hancock (pictured) said: “The NHS has identified nine confirmed cases of listeria in seven different hospitals between April 14 and May 28, all linked to contaminated sandwiches from a single supplier.

“All the cases involved inpatients and, very sadly, five people have died.”

Mr Hancock expressed condolences to the families who have lost loved ones, and promised a root-and-branch review of food sold and served in hospitals.

He added: “I promise there will be a full and thorough investigation, and severe consequences if there is any evidence of wrongdoing.”

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, who asked an urgent question on the issue, said: “Our thoughts really must be with the families of those who have lost their lives.”

He added: “I have been speaking to hospital catering staff in recent days and they have raised with me concerns about the tight finances, and that years of capital cuts have left kitchens substandard, and this has driven a move to greater outsourcing of catering, with sandwiches and soups steadily replacing hot meals.

“Recent data shows some hospitals spending less than £3 per patient per day.

“Do you agree that this review should be backed up by investment in hospital catering, in facilities, and legally-backed clear minimum quality standards for hospital food?”

Mr Hancock replied: “It is important to have the best quality food in hospitals. I am completely open to upgrading hospital equipment if that is what is necessary and if it provides value for money.

“I have been struck by the number of hospital chief executives that have said that, from the point of view of patient satisfaction, staff morale, and nutrition and the quality of food, bringing those food supplies in house is the best thing they have done.”

Answering Tory Sir Bill Cash’s (Stone) question, Mr Hancock said: “He’s quite right to identify that this is a supply chain issue and that there’s a complex supply chain in operation.”

SNP health and social care spokeswoman Dr Philippa Whitford raised the question of the incubation period and whether surveillance of trusts would continue at the same time as the investigation.

She said: “These sandwiches were sold to 43 trusts and while there have been no cases since the 25th May the incubation of listeriosis is 70 days.”

She added: “Can I ask him to pay particular attention to why on earth people who were seriously ill or frail were being fed sandwiches. Someone who has no appetite and is recovering from illness is simply not going to be tempted by a pack of sandwiches and therefore that really makes the case for bringing food preparation in hospital and producing tempting meals because nutrition is critical to recovery.”

Labour’s Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) raised outsourcing adding: “Surely we’ve got to be a lot firmer here in identifying that this growth in outsourcing food supplies is leading to some real safety issues and potentially to these deaths themselves.”

Tory Maria Caulfield (Lewes) raised the issue of food spending and staffing levels.

She said: “While there’s no evidence that cost is behind the tragic cases that we’ve heard of today, would the secretary of state in his root-and-branch review look at the price that hospitals are spending on food, a pound per meal is not enough for a healthy, nutritious meal for patients, some trusts are spending less than £5 a day on patient food.

“Would he also look at legislating for safe staffing levels so there’s enough nurses on the wards to feed patients, about a third of patients are eating less than half of the food that is served before them and are suffering from malnutrition.”

Mr Hancock replied: “Those hospitals that have brought food production in-house and sourced locally-produced food not necessarily locally distributed food, but properly locally-produced food, have often found that it reduces costs rather than raises them. So this isn’t a question of resources, it is question of good practice.”

DETAILS OF LISTERIA OUTBREAK HOSPITALS REVEALED

The NHS has identified nine confirmed cases of listeria at seven different hospitals around the country, Public Health England (PHE) has said.

Five people are suspected to have died after eating pre-packaged sandwiches and salads linked to the same supplier, The Good Food Chain.

The deaths occurred at four different hospital trusts – two at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, one at Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool, one at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust and the fifth at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.

Three other trusts have diagnosed listeria cases linked to the outbreak with no deaths.

There have been two cases at Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, one case at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust and one at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust.

Details of the trusts affected come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned there will be “severe consequences” if there is evidence of “wrongdoing”.

The Good Food Chain, which supplied 43 NHS trusts across the UK as well as one independent provider, voluntarily ceased production and PHE said the investigation into the outbreak is continuing.

The business was supplied with meat produced by North Country Cooked Meats, which has since tested positive for the outbreak strain of listeria and also stopped production.

Listeria infection is rare and usually causes a mild illness in healthy people.

However, it can have more serious consequences among those with pre-existing medical conditions, pregnant women and those with a weak immune system.

PHE insisted the health risk to the public remains low and said people should only seek medical attention if they develop symptoms.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.