Reading Borough Council (RBC) has been fined following the death of a pensioner from exposure to Legionella.

Lewis Payne, a 95-year-old vulnerable gentleman, was attending RBC operated care facility The Willows to receive intermediate care after a hospital stay for a broken leg, before returning to his own home.

During his stay he began feeling unwell, complaining of aches and pains including tightness of the chest, shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing. He was also suffering from nausea, Reading Magistrates’ Court heard.

On 16 October 2012 he was re-admitted to hospital and a sample proved positive for the presence of Legionella. He underwent treatment for Legionnaire’s disease, but died on 1 November 2012 from pneumonia related to legionella.

Prior to November 2012, RBC’s control and management arrangements to ensure the risk from legionella was minimised were not robust enough in a number of areas, and the Legionella training for the key personnel at The Willows was significantly below the standard required.

There were inadequate temperature checks and some of those done with respect to Thermostatic Mixer Valves (TMVs) were done incorrectly. Showers were not descaled and disinfected quarterly as required; flushing of little used outlets was reliant on one member of staff and there was no procedure for this to be done in the absence of that member of staff.

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) said the failings were systemic and continued over a period of time. There was a history of legionella problems at the home, which was formerly known as Tanfield Care Home.

The monitoring, checking and flushing tasks were given to the home’s handyman who was inadequately trained and supervised. There was no system in place to cover for him when he was away so that the requisite checks were not done.

Reading Borough Council admitted breaching Section 3(1) of Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £100,000 with £20,000 costs in Reading Crown Court.

HSE inspector Kelly Nichols said: “Mr Payne’s family has lost a loving father, grandfather, great grandfather and just before his death he had become a great, great grandfather. His family expected him to return home from the hospital to resume his normal active life, he never did.

“Reading Borough Council could and should have controlled the risk of exposure to legionella to the elderly and infirm as well as those receiving immediate care prior to returning home.

“RBC’s failings were systemic and continued over a period of time. There was a history of legionella problems at the home. The control and management arrangements were not robust and the legionella training of key personnel fell significantly below the required standard.”

BSRIA’s head of energy & environment, Reginald Brown said: “Many organisations are aware of their legal responsibilities for the control of legionella bacteria but fail to ensure that the recommendations of risk assessments are fully implemented by operational staff. They can be prosecuted for that failure even where there have been no cases of Legionnaires disease and no indication of legionella bacteria in the water system. Susceptibility to legionella infections increases with age so the operators of care homes and other healthcare facilities are expected to be particularly vigilant.”

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock/Jarun Ontakrai