Private health firm BUPA has been fined £3 million after a resident at one of their care homes contracted Legionnaires’ disease and died. The man moved into the Essex home in March 2015. However, just three months later he was taken to hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. His condition rapidly deteriorated, and three days later he died of the disease.
What is Legionnaires’ disease?
According to NHS UK, Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection you can catch by inhaling droplets of water containing bacteria. While uncommon in the UK, it can be severe.
You can catch Legionnaires’ disease from things like showers, taps and toilets, air conditioning systems, spa pools and hot tubs.
While you might need to go into hospital if you’re diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, it is possible to make a full recovery. However, untreated, it can be fatal.
How to avoid Legionnaire’s disease
There has been an increase in the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease across the UK. In fact, while in 2016 there were 496 reported cases, 2017 saw a significant rise, with 693 cases reported by the end of the year. There have also been 211 cases reported so far this year.
However, it is possible to prevent the disease. In fact, in this day and age, the risk of catching Legionnaires’ disease can be avoided with the correct procedures, products and care.
For example, when water is stored at a temperature higher than 60°C the Legionella bacteria is destroyed. And, while storing water at such a high temperature does increase the risk of scalding, this can also be avoided as long as the right practices are followed.
One of the most effective ways to prevent both legionella and scalding is to use a TMV. This technology lets water be stored and distributed at the high temperature needed to kill the bacteria, but cools it by blending with cold water before it reaches the tap. So both the risk of scalds and Legionella are reduced.
This advice is shared by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), which recommends using temperature control to balance the risk. The guidance provided by the HSE states that:
- Hot water storage cylinders (calorifiers) should store water at 60°C or higher
- Hot water should be distributed at 50°C or higher (thermostatic mixer valves need to be fitted as close as possible to outlets, where a scald risk is identified)
- Cold water should be stored and distributed below 20°C.
To keep the public safe, it is vital that the industry promotes the importance of care through the use of appropriate products. Water systems must be correctly installed, and, once in place regular, and proper maintenance carried out.
An investigation into the recent death by the HSE found that in this case, BUPA failed to implement the essential control and monitoring measures needed to safely manage their hot and cold water system (during a period of refurbishment). It also found that the people responsible for overseeing legionella controls had not been adequately trained.
While BUPA has since made improvements across all of its care homes, more must be done to increase awareness of the disease, and what can be done to prevent it. Particularly as such deaths are entirely avoidable by using qualified and competent plumbing professionals working to industry standards and regulations.
Last year the CIPHE launched the Safe Water Guide: Scald Prevention and Legionella. Copies of the guide can be obtained from email@example.com.
 By end of May 2018