Two more hospital patients have died in England following a listeria outbreak linked to pre-packed sandwiches, health officials revealed today.
It brings the total number of confirmed deaths to five, and the number of confirmed cases to nine, Public Health England have announced.
The outbreak has been linked to sandwiches and salads from supplier, The Good Food Chain, which supplies 43 of the 135 NHS trusts in the UK.
PHE said that one of the patients confirmed today as linked to the outbreak of the deadly foodborne bacteria had already died.
It is unclear whether the two deaths announced today were at the same hospitals.
Last week PHE first revealed the outbreak and said six patients had been infected. Three died, two at Manchester University Hospital and a third at Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool.
Hospitals were warned about the sandwiches last month, which were pulled from plates on May 25, but a public announcement was not made until last Friday, June 7.
Five hospital patients have now died after a listeria outbreak linked to pre-packed sandwiches by The Good Food Chain (pictured), which is considering suing the supplier who was the source of the infection
Health bosses have now been accused of repeatedly ignoring warnings over the deadly risks of contaminated sandwiches.
Officials have been ‘evasive’ and ‘trying to play the outbreak down’ after failing to warn people of the dangers posed by the bacteria, victims have claimed.
Tanya Marston, who was infected in William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, says bosses have tried to play the outbreak down
Listeriosis has a 70-day incubation period, meaning infected patients could have unaware of the situation.
PHE said today that ‘evidence suggests’ that all the infected patients ate the affected products before they were withdrawn on May 25, 2019.
Tanya Marston needed strong antibiotics and feared she would die after eating an infected sandwich in hospital in Ashford, Kent.
She told the Mail On Sunday: ‘It looks like health officials have tried to play this outbreak down.
‘If they are being evasive, that makes me a bit angry.’
A series of documents expose how scientists and health officials have been warning about the dangers of contaminated sandwiches for more than a decade.
The Good Food Chain has now voluntarily ceased production while the investigation continues.
Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Bioreports was one of the two hospital trusts affected
This business was supplied with meat produced by North Country Cooked Meats, which subsequently produced a positive test result for the outbreak strain of listeria.
The Good Food Chain is considering suing North Country Cooked Meats, which is based in Salford,
Director Martyn Corfield, 50, said: ‘My sincere thoughts are with the families affected. I feel for them because I have been through it, I’ve been bereaved.
‘But I’m very angry too because we are a victim as much as anyone else.’
Dr Nick Phin, Public Health England, said: ‘PHE is working very closely with the Food Standards Agency, NHS England and Improvement, as well as partner organisations in Scotland and Wales, to investigate this outbreak.
Meat was produced by North Country Cooked Meats, based in Salford, Greater Manchester
The Good Food Chain, which supplied the sandwiches, is based in Stone, Staffordshire
Dr Colin Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer at the FSA said: ‘Our sympathies remain with the families of the patients who have tragically passed away.
‘We have taken action along with local authorities to minimise the risk based on the evidence so far. The FSA will continue to investigate the cause of the outbreak to prevent a reoccurrence.’
It emerged this week that in 2008, the Government’s Health Protection Agency – now Public Health England – found listeria in 2.7 per cent of sandwiches served in hospitals and care homes – equivalent to roughly one in 40 sandwiches or 432,000 out of the 16million sandwiches provided by the NHS each year.
Then in 2016, a report commissioned by the Food Standards Agency found that at least nine listeria outbreaks had occurred in UK hospitals since 2003 – almost all caused by sandwiches.
The authors identified that sandwiches were commonly stored in fridges or canteen display units which weren’t cold enough, or on trolleys in warm wards prior to being served.
An earlier report in 2003 revealed how five pregnant women in Swindon fell ill after eating contaminated sandwiches from a hospital shop.
Lib Dem health spokesman Judith Jolly said this week: ‘It is completely shocking and heartbreaking to see that lives have been lost by these catastrophic failures.
‘The fact that warnings were ignored shows the full extent to which these hospitals have failed in their duty of care. Changes must be made urgently to ensure something like this does not happen again.’
The listeria outbreak: What is the infection and what is the risk?
Listeria most commonly infects chilled, ready-to-eat foods such as pre-packed sandwiches, pate and soft cheeses.
In rare cases it leads to listeriosis, which can cause a temperature, vomiting and aches and pains.
Most people will get better on their own but for some the illness will be fatal. Hospital patients are especially vulnerable to listeria’s effects as they are usually elderly or have underlying health conditions.
All patients who died or became ill are believed to have eaten chicken salad sandwiches, which have since been withdrawn while investigations continue.
Listeria monocytogenes (stock) as found in the pre-packaged food sold at hospitals
The source has been traced to North Country Cooked Meats, which is based in Salford, and The Good Food Chain is now considering suing them. Yesterday, director Martyn Corfield, 50, said: ‘My sincere thoughts are with the families affected. I feel for them because I have been through it, I’ve been bereaved. But I’m very angry too because we are a victim as much as anyone else.’
Dr Nick Phin, of Public Health England said that ‘any risk to the public is low’.
Most people that catch listeriosis, caused by bacteria called listeria, will only experience mild symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhoea.
Other symptoms of the infection can include a high temperature of 38C or above, aches and pains, and chills, according to the NHS.
However, more serious complications can develop in those with weakened immune systems, babies, the elderly and pregnant women.
Many foods can harbour listeria, but it is usually found in unpasteurised milk, soft cheeses and ready-to-eat foods, such as prepacked sandwiches.
Listeria is widespread in the environment and can be found in raw food and soil, and in the droppings of many mammals, birds, and fish.
Around 180 cases of listeriosis are confirmed every year in England, according to figures. It strikes around 850 annually in the US.