NHS trust slammed over superbug tragedyPolice reviewing damning report by health watchdog

11 October 2007

Being prepared can make your hospital stay easier

Police were today considering whether to launch an investigation into failings at a healthcare trust where 90 patients died in superbug outbreaks blamed on appalling hygiene standards.

Officers are reviewing whether mismanagement by chiefs at Kent and Sussex Hospital, Pembury Hospital and Maidstone Hospital amounted to a criminal act, Kent Police said.

The stomach bug, Clostridium difficile (C difficile), contributed to the deaths of some 180 people and infected more than 1,100 during two outbreaks in the autumn of 2005 and early 2006, a damning official report revealed today.

Worst in UK

The outbreaks at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust were the worst ever seen in the UK. During that time, more than 1,170 patients at Maidstone Hospital, Kent and Sussex Hospital and Pembury Hospital were infected with the diarrhoea bug.

A Healthcare Commission probe found that 345 of those patients died - 90 of which definitely or probably died as a result of the infection.

The bug was also said to be a definite contributing factor in 124 deaths, probably a factor in 55 and possibly a factor in 62.

The health watchdog's report found the trust had not put in place appropriate measures to manage and prevent infection, despite having high rates of C difficile over several years. The board also didn't address problems that were consistently raised by patients and staff, including a shortage of nurses.

Nurses were often too rushed to clean their hands properly, empty and clean commodes, clean mattresses and equipment properly and wear aprons and gloves appropriately and consistently. There was also evidence of several occasions when nurses told patients with diarrhoea to ‘go in their beds’.

Police review

The health watchdog sent its report to the Health and Safety Executive and Kent Police.

A Kent Police spokesman said: 'We are in the process of reviewing the contents of the report given to us by the Healthcare Commission. Until such stage as we have digested the contents of the report, we cannot say we are going to fully investigate this. We have got to review it first.

'The purpose of the review is to see if any criminal acts have taken place.'

He said if any criminality is found, police will gather evidence and liaise with the Crown Prosecution Service.

Tragedy

The Healthcare Commission’s Chief Executive, Anna Walker, said: ‘What happened to the patients at this trust was a tragedy. This report fully exposes the reasons for that tragedy, so that the same mistakes are never made again.’

‘I urge all trusts to heed the lessons of this report so that they can look patients in the eye and say that everything possible is being done to protect people from infection.  That is the least that patients can expect.’

Trust apologises

The trust's Chief Executive, Rose Gibb, left her job on Friday by mutual agreement with the trust's board. Dr Malcolm Stewart, medical director of the trust, apologised for the tragedy and said that rates of C difficile in the trust were now lower than the NHS average last year.

He added: ‘C difficile rates have fallen sharply following improved isolation measures, a £1 million cleaning programme, better antibiotic use and further campaigns on hand washing.’

Which? health campaigner Clare Corbett said: 'It is totally unacceptable for patients to be treated in this way. Which?’s own research shows that failure to pay attention to the so-called ‘softer’ aspects of care such as cleanliness, food and the approach and attitude of staff can have a serious impact on patient health.'

Which? recently launched our Impatient for Change campaign with the aim of improving the non-clinical aspects of patient care in NHS hospitals from hygiene to the standard of food and the organisation of care.