Outbreaks of Clostridium Difficile


Appalling standards of care, dirty wards and too much focus on cost cutting and hitting government targets all contributed to two serious outbreaks of Clostridium Difficile at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, a damning report from the Healthcare Commission has found.

More than one thousand patients at three hospitals run by the Trust – Kent and Sussex Hospital, Pembury Hospital and Maidstone Hospital – were affected by the outbreak, the worst ever recorded in Britain.

The Health Watchdog, the Healthcare Commission, concluded that the infection probably or definitely killed at least 90 patients and was a factor in the deaths of a further 241. In total 345 people died with the infection.

Though C-diff was rife on the wards, managers failed to act. Isolation units were not set up, nurses were so rushed they did not have time to wash their hands and patients were left in soiled beds. Bed pans were not decontaminated properly and beds were not cleaned as well as they should have been.

The report said some patients at the hospital run by the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust should have made a full recovery from their initial illness but then caught C-diff and died. The Commission found cases where the patient probably died as a result of their C-diff infection but it was not mentioned on the death certificate.

The number of people who died also turned out to be far higher than declared to the media and the Commission. The Commission said managers at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust were too focused on hitting government targets and were cutting nursing staff and closing beds to balance books, contributing to the problem.

A Partner at Simpson Millar specialising in medical negligence cases said in a statement to the press: - “Over the last 12 months we have seen a significant increase in the number of cases relating to C-Diff, both from people who have contracted it and from family members who have lost a loved one to C-Diff related complications. The case reported in Kent is indeed very serious, probably the worst to date – but I fear that even this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg."

"Often these cases concern not just the contraction of C-Diff itself but also a failure to recognise the signs and symptoms of C-Diff and to treat it promptly. C-Diff can be treated by specific antibiotics and most cases make a full recovery. However, the elderly with underlying conditions are more at risk and likely to have a more severe course. I have no doubt that at least some of those who have died would have likely recovered if they had been treated properly. I still find in practice that there is a general lack of understanding on the part of a substantial number of medical staff of what this condition is and what its symptoms are. The question is not just how a patient contracted C-Diff but also how that condition was then managed. Regrettably, the condition is not always managed as it should be and patients have died as a result."

"These poor patients and their families have been badly let down and serious questions still need to be asked. I suspect that many of the patients involved or the loved ones of those who have died will have substantial claims for compensation which could run from a few thousand pounds to hundreds of thousands of pounds depending on circumstances. Those patients or those families should seek advice from a specialist solicitor."

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