Health chief apologises over E.coli outbreak
A HEALTH chief has personally apologised to the parents of children left seriously ill by an E.coli outbreak, it was disclosed today.
Justin McCracken, the head of the Health Protection Agency (HPA), apologised for delays after it emerged the agency received reports about the outbreak earlier than was claimed.
Mr McCracken announced today that he had commissioned an independent investigation into the E.coli outbreak at Godstone Farm in Surrey.
The mother of twin boys who are being treated in a London hospital said she was pleased the HPA "had the guts" to launch the inquiry.
Initially, the HPA said that the first E.coli case had come to light on August 27 but a subsequent investigation has discovered two cases were reported in the previous week.
Mr McCracken said: "If this information had been taken into account on 27 August, then the advice given and the steps taken on 3 September would have been introduced earlier and the farm might have been closed earlier."
Yesterday, Mr McCracken phoned parents of those children most seriously affected by the outbreak to apologise for delays within the HPA.
He said: "I wanted to speak personally to the parents of those children who are most seriously ill in hospital to explain what has happened and, however inadequate under the circumstances, to apologise.
"The position they find themselves in is unbearable and it is of course worse that what has happened might have been avoidable.
"I have decided to set up an externally-led investigation into the outbreak, the factors which contributed to it, and its handling."
Mr McCracken said it was important to have a "full understanding" of the outbreak so lessons could be learned.
"And I am determined that this organisation makes whatever changes are necessary in response to the findings of the investigation."
Thirteen children are being treated by doctors, and four remain seriously ill.
The HPA expects more cases to come to light because of the bug's long incubation period.
Tracy Mock, the mother of two-year-old twin boys Aaron and Todd Furnell, who are ill in St Thomas's Hospital in central London, said: "I'm pleased that I caused such a fuss because I think it has helped bring it all out into the open."
Ms Mock, 38, from Paddock Wood, Kent, added: "It is good that the HPA have had the guts to launch this independent external investigation, which is what I wanted to happen.
"But the fact remains that the farm should not have been open when my guys went there after there had been earlier reports of people being ill with E.coli.
"If we had known that earlier, we would never have gone to the farm and my guys wouldn't be in hospital.
"Justin McCracken told me yesterday that they should have closed the farm on August 27 after earlier reports of cases.
"The reason it seems why it wasn't shut was because of money, and because the farm didn't want to lose out on business over the bank holiday. That's what I believe."
Ms Mock, whose five-year-old daughter Jodie also fell ill with E.coli but is making a recovery, said her boys may have to stay in St Thomas's for up to two weeks while tests continue.
As she travelled to the hospital, she said: "This morning the doctors have had blood from Aaron and they are waiting for the results from that, but unfortunately Todd is going to have to have another operation."
Meanwhile, another toddler, Alfie Weaver, is being monitored by doctors at East Surrey Hospital in Redhill, where he has also undergone blood transfusions.
The little boy was left screaming in agony when his kidneys shut down following the outbreak. He was cared for in an isolation ward but is now understood to have begun talking.
He and his six-year-old sister were taken to Godstone Farm on the August bank holiday.
The total number of cases of E.coli O157 linked to Godstone Farm in Surrey stands at 37.
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