Expert Lawyers Welcome Better Protection For Patients Against Infections

Widow Speaks Out Four Years After Husband’s Death

04.10.2012

A Darlington widow has spoken of her relief that patients will be better protected from the threat of dangerous bugs in future after a coroner criticised an NHS trust for allowing her husband to develop an infection caused by exposure to building work.

John Meek, 68, underwent a successful kidney transplant at the Newcastle Freeman Hospital in April 2008 and looked set to make a full recovery. But after being transferred to the neighbouring James Cook Hospital in Teeside for aftercare his condition deteriorated when he contracted an infection, which led to months of pain before he died in January 2009.

His wife Margaret Meek attended an inquest, held four years after his death, at Middlesbrough Coroner’s Court where deputy coroner for Teeside Tony Eastwood said Mr Meek died of natural causes, and although the infections didn’t cause his death, he said the hospital didn’t do enough to protect Mr Meek from getting the bugs.

The court heard that during his many visits to the hospital Mr Meek contracted the fungal infection aspergillus, which caused a brain abscess resulting in a loss of sight and balance and is commonly found when renovation work is being done on buildings. He was also infected with clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhoea and intestinal problems.

The coroner also welcomed new procedures the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has introduced since Mr Meek’s death to prevent others catching the potentially-deadly bugs, which hospital patients on high doses of antibiotics are particularly susceptible to as the drugs wipe out the good bacteria in the gut.

Mrs Meek told the court she was so concerned about the amount of building work going on at the hospital she had reported it officially to hospital staff.

She said: “Patients should never be exposed to renovation work in hospital buildings where these deadly bugs can lurk – simply being transferred between one hospital to another turned into life or death for John and I don’t think I’ll ever get over losing him like that.

“During all his visits to the James Cook Hospital there was a lot of building work going on and the main corridor was full of dust, concrete and boarded floors. There were open skips outside the open fire door as well as lots of bags of rubbish.

“During his hospital stay in September 2008 John even commented on the appearance of the dust particles in the sunshine. And in October 2008 the floor of the main corridor had begun to be concreted, there were piles of rubble outside the fire doors and there were pieces of concrete and lots of dust at the sides of the corridor.

“John suffered from kidney disease but was on a special diet and didn’t need any dialysis. He was fit and healthy and played golf three times a week. But he suffered horribly in his last few months because of the infections and it was a very traumatic time for us.”

Lindsey Henderson, an expert medical lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said she was pleased lessons had been learnt from Mr Meek’s tragic case and hoped that hygiene standards will remain a priority for the trust now improvements have been made.

She said: “Aspergillus is extremely harmful to the general public and is commonly found when renovation work is carried out on buildings so it’s incredibly important patients, especially patients with weakened immune systems such as Mr Meek who are vulnerable to infection, are protected.

“We welcome the fact that the trust has since learnt valuable lessons from this case and has amended its guidelines for how patients are moved between wards or hospital buildings so they are not exposed to potentially dangerous infections and bugs. Patients need to be reassured that they will be cared for in a safe environment when they are at their most vulnerable.”