The hospital where a cancer patient was killed by a listeria-infected sandwich was warned its fridges were broken and too hot several days before he died, it was revealed today.
Ian Hitchcock, 52, died in June after eating a contaminated meal – a scandal that appears to have claimed the lives of six people in the UK this year.
Today it emerged sandwiches at Royal Derby Hospital, where Mr Hitchcock was receiving cancer treatment, were kept in ‘ineffective’ fridges that warmed the food to above 8C – an offence under 2013 food safety laws.
The problem was found by experts inspecting the kitchen on June 4 and 5 where an environmental health officer said the broken fridges were serving food at illegal temperatures.
A report said the food was a particular risk to anyone with a weakened immune system, such as cancer sufferer Mr Hitchcock.
On June 8 he died after eating one of the pre-packed sandwiches.
Ian Hitchcock, 52, died after eating a pre-packaged sandwich while being treated for cancer at the Royal Derby Hospital last week. His death is being linked to an NHS listeria outbreak which has so far claimed five lives
In a letter, seen by the
WHAT IS LISTERIOSIS?
Most people that catch listeriosis, caused by bacteria called listeria, will only experience mild symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhoea.
Other symptoms of the infection can include a high temperature of 38C or above, aches and pains, and chills, according to the
Listeria monocytogenes (stock) as found in the pre-packaged food sold at hospitals
However, more serious complications can develop in those with weakened immune systems, babies, the elderly and pregnant women.
Many foods can harbour listeria, but it is usually found in unpasteurised milk, soft cheeses and ready-to-eat foods, such as prepacked sandwiches.
Listeria is widespread in the environment and can be found in raw food and soil, and in the droppings of many mammals, birds, and fish.
Around 180 cases of listeriosis are confirmed every year in England, according to figures. It strikes around 850 annually in the US.
HOW CAN YOU AVOID LISTERIOSIS?
- wash your hands regularly with soap and water
- wash fruit and vegetables before eating them
- store ready-to-eat foods as recommended by the manufacturer
- make sure all hot food is steaming hot all the way through
She added: ‘This increases the risk of harmful bacteria growing within the food, especially Listeria Monocytogenes which can grow rapidly in warm temperatures and is an increased risk to vulnerable consumers’.
Mr Hitchcock had been admitted on May 15 after being diagnosed with liver cancer the previous week.
He was named as one of the victims of the listeria outbreak at hospitals across the UK – linked to pre-packaged sandwiches and salads linked to the same supplier, The Good Food Chain.
His family said he had contracted the infection after his liver cancer diagnosis and was later transferred to the Nottingham City Hospital, where he died on June 8.
Beverley Sowah, 57, Enid Heap, 84, and Brenda Elmer, 81, are the only other people named after they died in the outbreak which has prompted a ‘root and branch’ review of catering in hospitals.
Now a coroner has lifted a restriction which banned the media from reporting that 52-year-old Mr Hitchcock died from listeria after the infection was listed as one of two causes of death – the other being liver failure.
Dr Robert Hunter banned the publication ‘by any means whatsoever’ that the businessman died from listeria until the cause of death was established under Section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
Mr Hunter did tell the inquest that it was not in dispute that Mr Hitchcock had contracted listeria.
The NHS identified University Hospitals of Derby and Burton as one of the hospital trusts affected by a patient death.
There were also two deaths at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, one at Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool, and one at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.
Three other trusts had diagnosed listeria cases linked to the outbreak with no deaths – two 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.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously warned there will be ‘severe consequences’ if there is evidence of ‘wrongdoing’ over the listeria outbreak.
The Good Food Chain, which supplied 43 NHS trusts across the UK as well as one independent provider, voluntarily ceased production and Public Health England (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.
There are concerns that leaving packs sat on trolleys in high temperatures for long periods allows dangerous bugs to multiply. Food manufacturers and hospitals were warned seven years ago not to serve ready-made sandwiches to vulnerable patients, such as those with a suppressed immune system or the elderly, because of the listeria risk
HOW DID THE LISTERIA SCANDAL UNFOLD?
March 25: Enid Heap, 84, admitted to Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI)
April 15: Beverley Sowah, 57, also admitted
April 26: Beverley Sowah dies
May 6: Enid Heap dies
May 16: Public Health England (PHE) tells MRI the listeria strains which infected Mrs Sowah and Mrs Heap are linked
May 20: Inquest on Mrs Sowah opened and concluded, death given as natural causes
May 24: PHE identifies the infected patients all ate sandwiches supplied by Good Food Chain
May 25: All hospitals told to withdraw Good Food Chain sandwiches
May 29: MRI informs coroner in Manchester that the deaths of Mrs Heap and Mrs Sowah are linked to an outbreak
June 7: North Country Cooked Meat named as the source; six infection cases and three deaths
June 8: Mr Hitchcock dies at Nottingham City Hospital
June 12: Manchester coroner serves court order on PHE and Food Standards Agency to supply information – they do on June 17
June 14: PHE reveals cases of infection have risen to nine; five deaths
June 17: Health Secretary Matt Hancock reveals eight hospitals affected, promises hospital food review
June 26: Food Standards Agency tells Good Food Chain it does not believe the firm is the source of the outbreak
June 27: Good Food Chain announces it is going into liquidation, meaning the loss of 125 jobs. The inquiry into the outbreak is now focused on North Country Cooked Meats in Salford
August 1: PHE announces a sixth person has died