Two babies died from killer bug at new £400m hospital because medics and visitors on neo-natal ward weren’t made to wash their hands
Jessica Strong was just 11-days-old when she died from an infection at the £400m University Hospital of North Staffordshire after a ‘breakdown in hand hygiene’, an inquest heard.
The hearing was told how an outbreak of Serratia Marcescens swept through the neonatal ward in June last year affecting six premature children.
Doctors said the infection had been brought in by a baby which was transferred a month earlier to one of the unit’s 23 cots from a hospital in Wales.
The first infant along with three others suffered no symptoms but Jessica and another baby – who has not yet been named – died after contracting the bug.
North Staffordshire Coroner’s Court heard that despite being born three months premature, in her home town hospital of Nuneaton, Jessica was doing well in the first few days of her short life after being transferred to the hospital in Stoke-on-Trent.
But when her condition started to deteriorate blood tests found traces of the infection which is found in the stomachs and bowels of children.
Just 12 hours later, despite two blood transfusions, Jessica died on June 30 after the bug swept through her spleen, lungs and brain.
Her devastated mother Annette, 43, told the hearing: ‘She had been doing so well staff were trying to transfer her home. ‘Then I got a call that she had deteriorated and they had resuscitated her.
‘I rushed back to the hospital and the day before she died I had her baptised. I was at her cot-side and she had her eyes wide open and seemed to recognise my voice. ‘But by then it was clear she would not make it so I gave her a last cuddle. She was my beautiful little dot.’
Staff from the hospital’s neonatal unit told coroner Ian Smith they were devastated they may have contributed to the deaths.
Neonatologist Dr Kate Palmer, who was responsible for Jessica before she became infected, said: ‘This has very much hurt the staff but it has been a wake-up call and brought a sea-change in attitude and culture to infection which now permeates everything we do.’
Neonatologist Dr Shivi Shankar said that while a blood test had been missed the day before the one that found the bug, there was no guarantee it would have identified anything.
Microbiologist Dr Jeorge Orendi said the baby arriving from Wales a month earlier was found to have the bacteria but was not severely ill and national protocols on anti-infection were followed.
Lead infection control nurse Emyr Phillips added: ‘While previous audits on the unit going back years showed excellent results, there was a clear breakdown in hand hygiene practice which could have been caused by staff or parents.’
Unit manager Lynn Davies said: ‘We were devastated that one baby had come in with this and somehow we had managed to spread it.’
Recording a narrative verdict, Mr Smith said: ‘Death was from extreme prematurity and infection spread by hand contact.’
An inquest has yet to be held into the other baby who died at 22 days.
After the hearing mother-of-two Annette revealed the family had appointed solicitors to take legal action against the trust.
She added: ‘I believe that the infection has been spread by a member of staff, there’s no way one parent could’ve contracted it and passed it on to six other babies. ‘It shouldn’t have taken two deaths to have the new hygiene steps put in place, it’s disgraceful and upsetting.’
A trust spokesman told MailOnline: ‘The trust made an early admission of liability prior to the inquest.’
Widow’s fury as Stafford Hospital staff join protest over cuts to health trust that allowed up to 1,200 patients to die needlessly
A widow whose husband, mother and father died within the space of 18 months at Staffordshire hospital angrily confronted staff as thousands staged a demonstration against proposals to downgrade major services.
Wearing a sign that read ‘My husband drank out of a vase! Where were you then!’ Heather Wilhelms had to be restrained by police as she made her feelings known to doctors and nurses who are fighting to save their jobs.
An estimated 30,000 marched from the town centre to the hospital to voice opposition after Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was placed into administration five days ago and taken over by a team of managers who will spend 45 days deciding its fate.
The trust, which runs Stafford and Cannock hospitals, has a troubled past and up to 1,200 patients are feared to have died needlessly due to poor care between 2005 and 2009.
In February, a long-awaited report blamed the disaster on a ‘culture of fear’, with managers being more obsessed with meeting targets than patient care.
Mrs Wilhelms is one of among nearly 100 bereaved relatives and victims to be paid more than £1 million compensation in the largest ever group claim against a British hospital in 2010.
Speaking to the Telegraph at the time, she told how doctors failed to notice her mother Pauline Nicklin, 71, had two cancerous tumours on her ovaries for two years before she died in 2006.
Nine months later, her father Percy went to the hospital with a deadly foot infection, but was sent home without treatment.
Convinced something was wrong, Mrs Wilhems took him back where he was diagnosed with blood poisoning and gangrene and died four days later aged 76.
Her husband Tom was also treated at the hospital before he died from a lethal lung disease but Mrs Wilhelms again complained of appalling conditions.
She said: ‘They went into that hospital to get the treatment and care to make them better. Instead, one by one, they came out of that place in their coffins.’
Despite her horrific experiences at Stafford hospital, last month Mrs Wilhelms told the Midlands Express and Star that she did not want to see it close. She said: ‘People do not want Stafford Hospital to close and I don’t want it to close. ‘Although I do think there needs to be a clean sweep. They need to bring someone in to sort it out once and for all.’
Campaigners of all ages today packed into the Market Square in Stafford for the rally and mile-long march to the hospital, with many holding placards and banners showing their opposition to the withdrawal of services including maternity care from the hospital.
A public inquiry found that it had provided ‘appalling’ standards of care and caused unnecessary suffering to hundreds of patients over a five-year period up to 2009.
Sue Hawkins, chair of the Support Stafford Hospital group, said today that it was important to move on from the past. ‘I think we’ve got to talk about 2013,’ she said. ‘What happened, happened. The numbers will be debatable but what we’ve got to do is move forward and look to the future for our community. ‘We’ve got a safe hospital today and we’re looking to the future.
‘We need to have an Intensive Care Unit here, we need to have an Accident and Emergency 24 hours a day and we believe that’s possible.
‘We know there have to be changes, we know there may have to be some alliance with another hospital to achieve that.’
Many of those at the demonstration, including hospital workers, community groups and political representatives, said there was hope for the hospital.
Heidi Fligg, 46, said: ‘People never appreciate anything until it’s gone. ‘I’ve had family and friends that have survived all sorts through Stafford and I just say it needs our support.
‘We’re not the only hospital suffering, I appreciate that, but why should we be the scapegoat for every other hospital?’
Admin worker Jo Van Derwyk, 46, said she had given birth to four babies at Stafford Hospital – the youngest is now five and the eldest nearly 21 – and had only good experiences then and since.
She said: ‘Stafford is a large town and it needs its hospital, it needs all its acute services, its emergency services and its maternity services.’
Another supporter, Brian Henderson, said: ‘As you can see today, the sense of feeling that people want services locally is immense.’
Race row as Tory town says: We don’t want your inner-city pupils here
Unless there’s an exceptional level of discipline, the fears of the villagers will be realized
Education Secretary Michael Gove last night stepped into a bitter race row raging over an inner-city school’s plan to open its own boarding school in an affluent rural area.
The top-performing Durand Academy in Stockwell, near Brixton, South London, wants to transport 600 youngsters to a site with stunning views over the South Downs every Monday morning for lessons and bring them back on Friday evenings, free of charge.
It says the scheme will provide them with ‘an Eton-style experience’ and help keep pupils safe from drugs and knife crime.
But the plan has been fiercely criticised by people living near the site – a disused boarding school in the quiet village of Stedham, West Sussex. They have raised concerns about the number of black and Asian students and claimed that youngsters would need to be searched daily for drugs and weapons.
They have also accused Durand’s ‘super-head’ Greg Martin – who has been described as a ‘hero’ by Mr Gove – of ‘spoiling a tranquil place’ by ‘bringing Brixton to the countryside’.
But last night Mr Gove’s spokesman hit back and attacked those ‘trying to obstruct an inspirational project’.
His intervention came after a local Tory county councillor expressed fears about the number of ethnic minority students who would attend the school. John Cherry, 73, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Ninety-seven per cent of pupils will be black or Asian. It depends what type of Asian. If they’re Chinese they’ll rise to the top. If they’re Indian they’ll rise to the top. If they’re Pakistani they won’t.
‘There are certain nationalities where hard work is highly valued. There are certain nationalities where they are uncertain what this hard work is all about.
‘If the children are not allowed out of the site then it will make them want to escape into the forest – it will be a sexual volcano.
‘Has anyone asked whether these children want to be plucked from their natural surroundings? They have never done boarding before, so they won’t know how it works.
‘The trauma of taking the children out of their natural surroundings is going to be considerable.’
He added: ‘Stockwell is a coloured area – I have no problem with that. To be honest, I would far rather Durand took over a secondary school in London rather than shoving everybody here.’
Anne Reynolds, chairman of a steering group which has been set up in the area to fight the plans, also questioned whether inner-city children would feel comfortable in such a rural environment.
She said: ‘It might raise tensions in their community. Their peers might say, “Why have you been chosen to go to a special, smart school in West Sussex but I haven’t?”
‘The whole thing is a massive experiment and I think it will be disastrous. There’s no evidence it will increase their attainment levels. When you’re a teenager, isn’t it too late to start appreciating the countryside? I don’t know if it’s the right environment.’
At a public meeting in the nearby village of Milland, where actor Hugh Bonneville has a home, one unnamed resident said: ‘You must be wary because you are talking about students who will have to be searched daily for weapons and knives.’ Chichester MP Andrew Tyrie is also ‘extremely unhappy’ with the way the project has been handled and has written to Mr Gove asking him to rethink the idea.
Mr Martin, Durand’s director of education, last night described some of the comments from residents as ‘shocking’ but vowed to press on with the scheme. It is hoped the boarding school will open next year.
He said: I’ve heard a few comments made about pupils escaping and I said I’m not building a prison.
‘It’s sad but it makes us want to fight harder for it, and when this councillor sees the hard work and commitment from ethnic minorities I’m sure he will change his tune.
‘At the moment, so many children are leaving our school well educated only to be utterly failed by the secondary system.
‘We want to get pupils away from hanging around the streets of Brixton and Stockwell, where we have stabbings and a constant threat of trouble. It will be very hard to maintain a negative view when you see students working hard and contributing. You will soon realise these are frankly nothing more than baseless prejudices.’
A spokesman for Mr Gove said: ‘Durand has a superb record of helping some of our most disadvantaged pupils achieve brilliant results thanks to a rigorous curriculum, great teaching and sky-high expectations for all pupils.
‘Durand’s boarding school is a bold experiment and a chance to give inner-city youngsters a truly world-class education.’
And leading black Conservative MP Kwasi Kwarteng urged locals to drop their opposition to the plan. Mr Kwarteng, whose parents came to Britain from Ghana and who was educated at Eton, said: ‘This school is a very good idea.
‘Obviously, the locals will have some concerns about it, but we have to give these children the chance to get a good education and a well-run boarding school in the English countryside is a perfect way to do that.
‘If the school is a success, as I am sure it will be, it will be a great credit to the pupils, teachers and the local community itself. When that happens everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about.’
Durand is a primary school that has been rated as outstanding by schools watchdog Ofsted. But staff and governors are so concerned about standards at local secondary schools that they used the proceeds from Durand’s leisure and student accommodation business to buy St Cuthman’s School, a Grade II listed building, for £3.4 million in 2010. They want to open it as a boarding school for pupils aged 13 to 19.
Mr Martin has said the idea stemmed from a desire to keep youngsters away from the ‘stabbings and constant threat of trouble’ in South London.
It secured a £17 million handout from the Government to help finance the project.
As an academy, Durand is outside local authority control, meaning it runs its own budgets and can even change the length of terms and the school day.
St Cuthman’s, which occupies 20 acres in an area of outstanding natural beauty, used to be run by the local county council for children with special needs but closed in 2004 and has remained empty since.
At his keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference in 2011, Mr Gove backed the idea of opening the boarding school. He also praised Mr Martin as a ‘hero’ after for transforming Durand.
Far-Left teachers hijacking protests against British free schools
A small cabal of far-Left teachers is orchestrating a series of strikes and aggressive campaigns against free schools and academies.
The militant activists are using the campaign group the Anti Academies Alliance (AAA) to orchestrate local opposition to the new schools, championed by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, as a key plank of his education reforms.
The group’s three founding members are trained teachers and members of the Socialist Workers Party, a far-Left group whose goal is the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
A Sunday Telegraph investigation shows that the alliance is a far cry from the grass-roots movement that it appears to be from its website.
One of the leaders — Nick Grant, a teacher in Ealing in west London — is paid by his local Labour-controlled authority to carry out duties full-time as an official with the National Union of Teachers.
Its other founders are Alasdair Smith, a history supply teacher and president of the Islington branch of the NUT in north London, and Ken Muller, a sixth-form college teacher and assistant secretary of the NUT’s Islington branch. Mr Muller also stood as a candidate for Respect, George Galloway’s socialist party.
Mr Muller has forcefully opposed the establishment of a free school in Hackney, the London borough where he lives. He is described on the alliance website as a concerned local parent, but it neglects to mention he is a co-founder of the organisation.
Another member is Hank Roberts, a union firebrand and president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
He led the occupation of a sports ground in Wembley in north-west London to try to prevent it being taken over by a now-hugely successful academy.
The alliance claims to campaign in 55 areas of Britain, and has organised demonstrations against academies and free schools and supported strikes, which have led to dozens of school closures.
But parents looking at its website would never know that its organisers are Socialist Workers Party (SWP) activists rather than simply a reflection of grass-roots concern over school changes. Parents who support the alliance may have been misled into thinking it is made up of like-minded people, not political ideologues.
Mr Gove branded the campaign “disgraceful” and accused the alliance of being an “SWP front”.
He told The Sunday Telegraph: “Free schools and academies are popular and drive up standards. It is disgraceful that unions and other far-Left groups are trying to thwart parents who just want a better education for their children.
“They defend schools that are failing and block plans for new schools even when parents want them and there is a vital need for new places.
“These people must put ideology to one side, and get behind teachers and parents who want to set up new schools with strong discipline, high-quality teaching and small class sizes.”
He added: “The Anti Academies Alliance lives in a parallel world in which the Berlin Wall never fell and central planning was the success story of the 20th century. Sadly, their priority is adult politics, not children’s education.”
The alliance works in tandem with the NUT, which has produced its own 53-page “toolkit” on how to oppose academies and free schools. It includes templates for protest letters, petitions and leaflets.
Critics believe that the AAA and affiliated unions are motivated by self-interest because they fear that teachers’ pay and conditions might be affected by the switch away from local-authority control.
The NUT has complained that academy status has “serious ramifications” for teachers, “putting at risk much that union members have negotiated in recent years”.
Academies have greater scope to set teachers’ pay and conditions, and can dismiss poor teachers more easily than local-authority schools, although most preserve the conditions of staff who have transferred.
Currently about half of England’s 3,200 secondary schools are academies or awaiting approval, and there are 81 free schools, with 100 more in the pipeline.
Head teachers of free schools and academies have complained about what they say are bullying tactics used against them.
Schools have been targeted in London, Sheffield, Oxford, Derby, Birmingham, Bedford, Hampshire and Lincolnshire.
Mark Lehain, the principal of Bedford Free School, suffered personal abuse when putting the case for his new school in the face of opposition from the alliance and its affiliates.
He said campaigners set up websites using the school name to confuse parents, and defamed him. “Amongst other things, those opposed to the school set up an attack blog, cyber-squatting on a version of our domain name so as to confuse parents,” said Mr Lehain. “They spread various rumours on Twitter and Facebook, and handed out libellous leaflets about us outside information events for parents.”
There is no evidence the AAA was behind the attacks, but his experience highlights how high feelings are running in the battle being fought.
He said a debate about the new school was “packed with trade union representatives”.
Mr Lehain said: “At one point I was asked by a member of the audience whether I had any links to News International, Enron or Halliburton — seriously? I’m a maths teacher.
“I was asked how my family were funding ourselves given that I had left my job [at his former school]. I explained that we were living on savings. Quick as a flash, a National Union of Teachers representative in the audience tweeted, ‘He says he’s living on savings. I don’t believe him. We should launch an investigation into his financial affairs.’
“That summed up the type of mindset we were dealing with: if you want to do something in your local community, they felt they had the right to invade your privacy and hassle you, your family and friends.”
Toby Young, the bestselling author and Telegraph contributor, found himself under fire when he launched plans for a free school in west London.
A document compiled by Nick Grant and presented to the education authority was written on NUT-headed paper, accusing Mr Young of being unfit to run a free school.
He said: “He went through my self-deprecating memoirs and extracted the most embarrassing material and presented this as painstaking research, which concluded I was unfit to run a school.”
Mr Young described the state schools system as “the last redoubt of the hard Left”, adding: “There’s almost nothing they won’t do to hang on to it. It’s politics at its most brutal and cut-throat.”
The challenge of the UK Independence party
Normal politics is slowly resuming after the death of Lady Thatcher, and things are looking pretty grim for her old party. Tories canvassing ahead of the local government elections on Thursday week indicate they will be thrashed.
Although Labour will score some big wins, the Conservatives’ most worrying threat comes from Ukip. Right across the South of England, traditional Tory voters are turning to the fringe party, attracted by its Thatcherite policies.
While its anti-Europeanism is a major factor (particularly considering the prospect of a new, uncontrolled influx of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria in the new year), UKIP is also offering more grammar schools, lower taxes, tougher public spending cuts, fewer wind farms and more defence funding.
Indeed, UKIP leader Nigel Farage mischievously claimed this week that his party would never have been formed in 1993 if Margaret Thatcher had not been kicked out as Tory leader.
An opinion poll also showed that the Tories would be much more popular today if she were still in charge.
Of course, this is deeply depressing for David Cameron, who is under increasing pressure to change course and embark on a radical, more Thatcherite agenda.
One of the influential voices urging a change of direction is the party’s chief election guru, Lynton Crosby, an Australian pollster with a long record of success and reliable instincts about voters’ concerns.
He is rightly worried about the number of traditional Tories who’ve become disaffected by the so-called ‘modernising’ agenda, with policies such as the legalisation of same-sex marriages.
Any change of direction, though, won’t be in time to stop the Tories’ expected humiliation in next month’s local elections. But it could reap dividends at the next general election.
Mr Crosby understands the importance of the party following Lady Thatcher’s lead and reconnecting with working-class voters.
It can only do this by being the champion of aspiration – something that Labour, with its addiction to the Welfare State, will never be.
If, as expected, the Tories lose as many as 600 council seats on May 2, the calls for change will be unstoppable.
As a result, Mr Cameron would have to consider holding his promised referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU as soon as possible, rather than waiting until 2017 or 2018.
He should also offer more incentives to the lower-paid by raising the threshold at which they start paying tax from nearly £10,000 (where it is now) to £15,000.
The Thatcherite doctrine of letting hard-working families keep more of their own money must be adopted. Iain Duncan Smith’s recent brave welfare reforms should also be extended. Tactically, too, Mr Cameron must change tack. It’s idiotic for him to attack UKIP supporters as ‘fruitcakes’ when, in truth, they are natural Tory supporters.
To avoid suffering any big electoral defeats, David Cameron must rein in the pernicious influence of the party’s modernisers. And he needs to do that fast.