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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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