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‘Serious failures’ in health system led to 19 patient deaths – some from listeria | UK News

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“Serious failures” in the public health system led to the deaths of 19 people linked to outbreaks of listeria and streptococcus, a former health chief has claimed.

Professor John Ashton said budgets and salaries have been cut “drastically” – with almost a decade of austerity leaving local authorities unable to “keep ahead of the threats to human health”.

A total of six people have died after eating pre-packaged sandwiches and salads linked to a listeria outbreak, while 13 people have died due to the spread of Group A streptococcus – a rare bacterial infection.

Prof Ashton, who served as the North West’s regional director of public health between 1993 and 2006, has warned there are systemic problems in the NHS – “resulting in the deaths of elderly citizens who deserved better”.

He also claimed public health establishments have been “whittled away” since responsibility for them was shifted to local governments.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, he drew comparisons to two major incidents that caused 41 deaths in the mid-1980s involving outbreaks of salmonella poisoning and legionella.

These outbreaks had followed “radical changes” to local government which “unravelled” the public health system at the time, Prof Ashton said.

His report added: “It is now time to digest these latest failings of a public health system that was only put in place six years ago as part of (former health secretary) Andrew Lansley’s structural changes to the NHS and for public health.

“There is a schism in which the clinical perspective in local government has been disappearing and the links between local authorities and the NHS have become ever more dysfunctional.

“This has been reflected in the deterioration in performance in areas that include sexual health, immunisation and vaccination and screening programmes.”

Describing what should be done to prevent further deaths, Prof Ashton said: “The lesson from history is that we should not embark on another re-organisational folly but rather find ways to strengthen what we now have and support its evolution into something fit for purpose.”

Dr Nick Phin, the deputy director of the National Infections Service at Public Health England, said: “PHE rapidly identified the extent and source of the recent listeria outbreak, using whole genome sequencing, which undoubtedly saved lives. The public health system works 24/7 to keep the country safe from infectious disease and other hazards to health.”

Prue Leith is advising a government review into hospital food
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Prue Leith is advising a government review into hospital food

Prof Ashton’s damning report came it was announced that a Great British Bake Off judge will advise a government review into hospital food following the deadly listeria outbreak.

The review will will examine the quality of the 140 million meals provided to patients each year, as well as staff meals.

Prue Leith has previously criticised hospital meals and is calling for them to be made more appealing and nutritious.

She said: “A hospital meal should be a small highlight, a little pleasure and comfort, and it should help, not hinder, the patient’s recovery.”

The review will look at increasing the number of hospitals catering in-house and how to use less frozen food and more local fresh produce.

The Royal College of Nursing reacted sceptically to Leith’s appointment – with director Patricia Marquis saying “you don’t need a celebrity chef to tell you hospital food needs an overhaul”.

She added: “This won’t make a lasting impact without a full-scale investment in the health and care system.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Guaranteeing hospitals serve nutritional, tasty and fresh meals will not only aid patient recovery, but also fuel staff and visitors as they care for loved ones and the vulnerable.

“Our NHS has led the way since the day it was formed. This review will ensure it remains the standard-bearer for healthy choices, as it works unstintingly to improve the nation’s well-being.”

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