A SEVERELY-ILL patient suffered brain damage and contracted a potentially fatal disease because of systematic failures at one of the region’s biggest hospitals, a coroner said yesterday.

Standards of hygiene and care at The James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, have been the focus of an inquest into the death of Darlington man John Michael Meek, 68, who died at the hospital in January 2009, following surgery for a perforated bowel.

Teesside Coroner’s Court heard that while in hospital, Mr Meek – who had recently undergone a kidney transplant – was repeatedly exposed to conditions that left him vulnerable to infection and led to him contracting fungal infection aspergillosis and potentially-deadly superbug C-Diff.

Loading article content

Complaints levelled at the South Tees Hospital Trust included claims that Mr Meek was transferred between wards without any protection along corridors that were left dirty and dusty as a result of on-going building works, and which were undertaken without any consultation with the hospital’s infection control team.

Deputy Coroner Tony Eastwood found that exposure to this environment led to Mr Meek developing aspergillosis, a disease which caused an abscess on his brain, resulting in severe neurological problems, including partial blindness.

He criticised the trust for failing to protect Mr Meek, saying: “Steps were not taken by the trust to protect patients.

“There was a lack of robust documented procedures used by the trust in relation to the way that maintenance work was performed in 2008.

“Although adequate measures were taken after complaints from Mrs Meek, such steps should have been and could have been taken earlier.

I find there were systematic failures.”

He also found that Mr Meek had contracted C-Diff while in the hospital and slammed the trust for failing to implement adequate measures to manage the disease.

Despite national guidelines saying patients displaying symptoms of C-Diff – which causes severe diarrhoea – should be isolated and treated promptly, Mr Meek was not isolated, had to share a ward with others suffering severe diarrhoea and did not receive treatment for the disease until ten days after an initial diagnosis was made.

Stool charts were not maintained and tests were not adequately performed.

Mr Meek’s wife, Margaret, said: “I am only sorry that nobody has been prosecuted as a result of this. Even if he had lived, his life would have been a misery because the aspergillosis had destroyed part of his brain.”

South Tees Trust’s acting chief executive, Professor Tricia Hart, said that processes and procedures are continually reviewed in order to provide the best possible care for their patients.

She said that the trust’s infection prevention and control team now attend meetings with maintenance contractors in relation to building works being carried out.

She added: “However, one patient with an infection is one too many and regrettable, and we remain committed to finding new ways of improving the safety and quality of our healthcare services.”

The inquest found that Mr Meek had died from natural causes, not believed to have been linked to the diseases he acquired during his hospital stay.