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THE man in charge of stamping out legionnaires’ disease at Basildon Hospital before a fatal outbreak told an inquest he had no formal training to tackle the bug.

Dr Roger Sage, former director of infection control, said bosses also went against watchdog advice by reducing treatments of the water system before James Compton, 74, who later died, contracted the disease.

The microbiologist chaired the hospital’s infection control committee until retirement in January 2009.

The committee was charged with reviewing the trust’s tackling of the problem, but Dr Sage accepted a number of breaches of its legionella control policy.

The joint inquest is into the deaths of Mr Compton from Kings Road, Billericay, who died in June 2007 and Raymond Cackett, 54, from South Ockendon, who died in March last year.

Both contracted legionnaires’ disease at the hospital.

Chelmsford Coroners Court heard yesterday that Dr Sage made a statement in November 2007, five months after Mr Compton’s death, saying he was given no formal training in legionella control.

Dr Sage had been absent from the hospital from May to August that year, but had been responsible for controlling the bacteria since 2003.

Dr Sage said: “Let me clarify this by saying in July 2004 I spent two days with Rob Speight (assistant director of estates) and Dr Ian Farrell, a well-recognised legionella expert. I spent a very considerable time surveying the hospital site looking for problems and I found the two days remarkably educational.”

The court heard the trust’s own legionella control policy put Dr Sage in charge.

But he told the inquest: “I was named in the policy as infection control doctor. I did not realise I had responsibility for water quality.

“As far as I was concerned, I did not consider anyone particularly responsible for water quality. I thought that was largely the responsibility of Rob Speight. He was the designated person for the control of legionella.”

Keith Morton QC, counsel for the coroner, asked if he felt able to act as infection control officer as per the policy.

He said he was able to identify and treat the disease, but added: “I never felt comfortable, as I had never trained in terms of the engineer’s aspect and water sampling aspect of legionella. I do not believe I was qualified to.”

Dr Sage also admitted the hospital’s legionella control policy had not been reviewed every six months, as it was supposed to be, and that most members of the infection control committee were not really qualified to deal with the cause of legionella.

He also said legionnaires’ had even broken out in the newer Jubilee ward because the focus of the problem had been on older blocks.

The inquest continues.

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A Merthyr Tydfil-based recycling company has been fined for failing to take appropriate measures to control the risk of exposure of its workers and the public to the potentially fatal Legionella bacteria.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Merthyr Industrial Services (Biomass) Limited following an investigation of its premises as part of HSE’s response to the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease along the Heads of the Valleys corridor in September 2010.

HSE inspectors visited the Penygarnddu Industrial Estate premises on 8 September 2010 and found that over a period of five weeks, the company had sporadically been operating a cooling tower on site without taking appropriate measures to control the risk of proliferation of the Legionella bacteria.

A Prohibition Notice was immediately served preventing the cooling tower from being used until all appropriate controls were put in place.

Merthyr Industrial Services (Biomass) Limited of Penygarnddu Industrial Estate, Merthyr Tydfil pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 8(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, and Regulation 3(1) of the Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992.

Today at Merthyr Tyfdil Magistrates’ Court they were fined £600 and ordered to pay full costs of £8,577.

The Legionnaires’ outbreak was declared on 3 September 2010 and was officially announced as over on 12 October 2010.

The multi-agency investigation revealed that no single source was identified for the outbreak, but investigations suggested a number of different possible sources accounted for the cases.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Stuart Charles said:

“While it is not alleged this company was one of the sources of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak last year, it is essential that companies operating cooling towers fully understand the risks of Legionella, and the steps they need to take to control that risk.

“Operating a cooling tower, even for short periods, without the proper controls in place can present a significant risk to employees and members of public.

“It is important companies comply with the legal requirement to notify Local Authorities if they are operating a cooling tower. If an outbreak occurs, this information is vital to the Outbreak Control Team when planning a response.”

More information on Legionnaires’ disease is available at Press enquiries Regional reporters should call the appropriate regional COI press office.

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