A hospital has been fined for failing to control the risk of patients’ exposure to Legionnaires’ disease resulting in the death of one of its patients.

The patient was being treated in an annex to the main hospital which had been built some time after the main hospital. When the annex was built, it was placed on a separate water tank system to the remainder of the hospital and the hospital failed to put in place the required temperature checks and tests for the legionella bacteria which causes Legionnaires’ disease. The unfortunate result was that one of its patients being treated in the annex contracted Legionnaires’ disease and later died in July 2015.

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia which is carried in water and affects the lungs. It is caused by inhaling droplets of water from affected water supplies such as air conditioning and hot tubs. Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include a persistent bad cough which leaves you short of breath or with severe chest pain and a high temperature or feelings of being hot and shivery. In most cases it can be treated with antibiotics but in very serious cases, it can be fatal.

Following the patient’s death, the Health and Safety Executive, a body responsible for the regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare and for investigating outbreaks of diseases, carried out an investigation into the circumstances of the patient’s death and the source of the infection. It uncovered the difference in water systems and found that, although the hospital had in place checks for the legionella bacteria and temperature checks, these did not extend to the annex. When tested, it was confirmed that the water system in the annex contained the legionella bacteria.

Speaking outside the hearing, a representative from the Health and Safety Executive said “All organisations have a responsibility to manage their water systems to protect people from the risk of legionella infection. It is essential that organisations review their risk control measures whenever there is reason to suspect that they are no longer valid or when there are changes to a water system.”

In this tragic case, the family of the patient may be entitled to make a claim for compensation against the hospital for their failings.

 

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