Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, has been fined  £50,000 with costs of £38,705.60 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.  A joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Sussex Police identified a history of failing to manage the deadly waterborne bug.

The investigation followed the death of vulnerable cancer patient Joan Rayment, 78, from Rottingdean at the Royal Sussex on 9 November 2011 – eight days after a urine tested positive for the legionella bacteria antigen.   An Inquest into Mrs Rayment’s death found that she died of natural causes and that by the time of her death, the legionella pneumonia appeared to have been successfully treated. However the inquest found that the infection may have hastened her death.

The Trust was sentenced on 11 June at Lewis Crown Court after hearing that although the Trust was monitoring legionella and water temperatures across its various sites at the time of Mrs Rayment’s death, between October 2010 and November 2011 a total of 114 positive legionella tests and a further 651 records of water temperatures outside the required parameters were not adequately acted upon.

Chloride Dioxide units were fitted at five sites to control the bacteria, but HSE inspectors found they routinely failed to emit the required dosage to work effectively.

High legionella readings were detected in the Lawson Unit, Barry Building, Tower Block, Sussex Eye Hospital and Outpatients department.

Inspectors also found that water in the Jubilee building at the Royal Sussex often failed to reach the 60 degree Celsius temperature needed to kill off legionella, which was another control system the Trust relied upon.

The court was told that one of the major contributors to the serious control failures was the fact that staff did not have sufficient instruction, training and supervision to be able to make informed decisions and take appropriate action.

The intervention of HSE and Sussex Police in the aftermath of Mrs Rayment’s death resulted in a new management system to effectively control legionella.

After sentencing, HSE Inspector Michelle Canning commented:

“The legionella control failures we identified at the Royal Sussex are made all the more stark by the fact that those most at risk of contracting legionella were amongst the most vulnerable in our society – including cancer patients like Joan Rayment.

All organisations have a legal duty to control the risks arising from hot and cold water systems, but healthcare providers like hospital trusts must be especially vigilant and robust in terms of the systems they have in place.”