Hancock ‘incredibly concerned’ by listeria outbreak
- Credit: PA
West Suffolk MP and health secretary, Matt Hancock has called for a “root and branch” review of NHS food after two more patient deaths were linked to a listeria outbreak.
Mr Hancock, who recently pulled out of the Conservative leadership campaign, said he was "incredibly concerned" after it emerged the patients were suspected of dying after eating pre-packaged sandwiches and salads linked by the same supplier, The Good Food Chain, bringing the number of suspected fatalities to five.
The affected products have since been withdrawn from hospitals and Public Health England (PHE) said evidence suggested all the deaths had occurred before the items were removed from circulation on May 25.
Mr Hancock said: "I have been incredibly concerned by this issue and strongly believe that we need a radical new approach to the food that is served in our NHS.
"Staff, patients and families deserve so much better - our NHS should be at the forefront of supporting people to make healthy choices.
"I have instructed the NHS to conduct a root and branch review of hospital food."
PHE said investigations into the outbreak are ongoing and are being conducted in partnership with the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
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The first three victims who died were at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool.
It is understood that of the latest two listeria deaths, one died after the first three confirmed cases.
The other patient died before the three listeria cases that were reported last week, but has only just been discovered to be linked to the same strain of the bacteria.
The trusts where the latest two victims were receiving treatment have not yet been named, but PHE said there are seven trusts across the country dealing with listeria cases.
The first case showed symptoms on April 25 and sandwiches and salads were withdrawn on May 25, as soon as a link with the cases was suspected.
It is understood that some of the products were sold at hospitals while others were given to patients.
The Good Food Chain, which supplied 43 NHS trusts across the UK, voluntarily ceased production.
Food Standards Scotland said there continues to be no listeria cases in Scotland.
The business was supplied with meat produced by North Country Cooked Meats, which has since tested positive for the outbreak strain of listeria and also stopped production.
Listeria infection is rare and usually causes a mild illness in healthy people.
However, it can have more serious consequences among those with pre-existing medical conditions, pregnant women and those with a weak immune system.
The Good Food Chain said in a statement: "Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families of those who have died and anyone else who has been affected by this outbreak.
"The underlying cause of it remains unclear.
"We understand that the investigations being carried out are complicated and will involve a number of stakeholders, but we hope the authorities will pursue their inquiries with all urgency so the wider industry can learn any lessons as soon as possible, and so those affected do not have to wait too long for answers.
"For our part, we are co-operating fully and transparently with the FSA and other authorities, and will continue to do so."
North Country Cooked Meats said previously: "At this stage, the company is currently co-operating fully with the environmental health and the FSA in their investigations, and a further statement will be issued in due course."
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was "time for a review of hospital food and the adoption of minimum standards".