NHS warned over pre-packed sandwiches seven years ago

By Laura Donnelly, Health Editor

THE NHS was warned not to give pre-packaged sandwiches to sick patients seven years before the listeria outbreak that has killed five people, it has emerged.

Matt Hancock revealed last night that eight hospitals had been hit by the bug and said he was keen for the health service to take over NHS catering in a bid to improve safety.

The Health Secretary named the NHS hospitals hit by the outbreak, linked to pre-packed sandwiches and salads, as he pledged to “take the necessary steps” to restore trust. They include two – Leicester Royal Infirmary and Royal Derby Hospital – in which patients have died.

A further four hospitals – William Harvey in Ashford; Wexham Park Hospital in Berkshire; St Richards Hospital in Chichester, West Sussex; and Worthing Hospital, West Sussex – have been affected by the outbreak.

Until now, officials had only named two hospital trusts – Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool – that between them had seen three deaths caused by listeria. Products linked to the outbreak were withdrawn on May 25, as soon as a link was suspected, but scientists fear more cases may emerge because listeria has a 70-day incubation period.

Last night, Mr Hancock set out plans for a “root and branch” review of hospital food, and said he would be keen to see an end to outsourcing of hospital food. He told the Commons: “There are dozens of trusts that have brought their catering in-house and found that you get better quality food more likely to be locally produced and better value for money … and that is something we are going to be examining very closely.”

The infections relate to sandwiches and salads provided by the Good Food Chain, using meat produced by North Country Cooked Meats. The Good Food Chain, which supplied 43 trusts in England, has voluntarily ceased production while investigations continue, as has the meat producer.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said pre-packaged sandwiches should only be given to ill patients with a doctor’s approval following a warning from the British Sandwich Association in February 2012.

But in 2016, the FSA relaxed its guidance, the Daily Mail said.

The FSA last night insisted it was right to change its advice three years ago, saying it is “robust in setting out good practice controls that hospitals can put in place to manage listeria risks”.

Mr Hancock expressed condolences to the families who have lost loved ones, and said: “I promise there will be a full and thorough investigation.”

Grahame White