Legionnaires’ disease is relatively rare in the UK, but when outbreaks do occur the disease can cause life-threating health problems and fatalities.
Following a fatal outbreak at St Christopher’s Hospice, which provides end-of-life care in South London, the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC) is emphasising the importance of proper Legionella control in public buildings.
After being admitted to St Christopher’s Hospice on 9 July 2012, an elderly man was taken to hospital on 12 August 2012 and died five days later.
He had contracted Legionnaires Disease, which was traced back to his stay at the Hospice.
Southwark Crown Court heard that four months later, the same Hospice was the source of another case of Legionnaires’, when an orderly worker contracted the disease whilst carrying out her duties.
She spent 18 days in a coma before making a full recovery.
Legionnaires’ disease is caught by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water, and while everyone is at risk, effects can be particularly serious in people with pre-existing health conditions, weakened immune systems and the elderly.
In public buildings with complex HVAC systems, special care must be taken to prevent bacteria from developing, but particularly in hospitals and hospices where patients are especially vulnerable.
HSE inspector Matt Raine, said the risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease for the patients and employees working at the Hospice was “entirely foreseeable”:
“The risks of Legionella are well known in the healthcare industry. St Christopher’s Hospice had implemented some measures in an attempt to control Legionella.
However, it failed to appoint a competent person to manage the risk of Legionella in the hospice’s hot and cold water system.
The failures in the management of Legionella led to conditions in the hot and cold water system that favoured the proliferation of Legionellae.”
Graeme Dryden, head of technical at APHC, highlighted the importance of specialist training in preventing Legionnaires’ disease:
“This case is another tragic example of a death that in all likelihood could have been prevented simply through the appointment of a competent person to manage Legionella risk in a public building.
Click on the links below for more information about Logic4training’s plumbing training, including specialist Legionella prevention courses: