22 Jun 2016

A birth centre, owned and managed by NHS Property Services, has had to close its doors to any new births since last Friday – 17th June 2016. Why? It’s not due a shortage of funds, and it’s not due to shortage of midwives.

It’s legionella.

Legionella bacteria

Legionella bacteria

Yes, routine checks – always a good idea, especially in a place that sees people who will be susceptible to legionnaires’ disease on a regular basis – have detected the presence of the legionella pneumophila in the water system of the specialist birthing centre in Paulton, Somerset.

There is emergency work going on to clear the problem, but no mothers are being accepted into the centre until the all clear is given (after a re-test is taken to determine that there is no legionella bacteria still in the water system).

At Legionella First, we agree that closing the centre to new births is the best idea. Legionella bacteria is something that can attack anyone and everyone who inhales it (and remember, this is the only way for it to enter the body and cause legionnaire’s disease. Legionnaires’ disease cannot be transferred from person to person), but some people are more at risk than others of developing the potentially fatal disease.

Newborn babies and people with compromised immune systems (such as mothers who have just given birth) are amongst that select group, so legionella bacteria hiding out in a birthing centre is most definitely cause for concern.

Newborns are susceptible to legionella

Newborns are susceptible to legionella

It is not, of course, cause for panic. The NHS did the right thing by having their systems tested. And they have put the correct contingency in place by closing the centre and eradicating the bacteria before allowing anyone back in.

A question we at Legionella First would ask though, after reporting our findings back to the responsible person, organising one of our trusted partners to carry out the chlorination of the system, and then going back to take another water sample to ensure the legionella bacteria had been eradicated, is why it was there in the first place?

Sometimes legionella can be in a system and it’s a ‘one off’ problem; maybe the calorifier was malfunctioning and the water wasn’t reaching 60 degrees, or perhaps the outlet that the bacteria had been found in hadn’t been used for a while and wasn’t flushed regularly. That’s fine – problem solved.

But what if it is a bigger problem? What if the legionella keeps recurring every time a test is taken?

Water samples

This is where a legionella risk assessment would be most useful – it would identify any major potential causes of legionella bacteria, and suggest ways to (as far as is practicable) eliminate the risk completely. If elimination isn’t possible, the risk must be reduced.

Contact us if you think your building needs a risk assessment to spot any potential trouble spots when it comes to legionella and the dangers to the public that it poses.

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