Damning report into petting farm E.coli outbreak

A "substantial" number of E.coli cases could have been prevented if health chiefs had responded quickly to an outbreak at a petting farm, a damning report said today.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) missed a key opportunity to take action which would have restricted the size of the outbreak at Godstone Farm, near Redhill, Surrey, last year.



A total of 93 people, including 76 children under the age of 10, were infected with E.coli after visiting the farm.



But the HPA and local health protection officers failed to take action which could have prevented many of these cases, according to an independent investigation.



The farm remained open over the August bank holiday weekend - receiving 5,500 visitors including 2,000 children - despite the fact officials already knew about three or four cases of the bug.



Today's report said was an "unacceptable delay" in taking steps to control the outbreak, which led to more people becoming infected and public safety being "neglected".



The study added: "The health protection unit (HPU) did not declare an outbreak, did not make any arrangements to review the circumstances over the Bank Holiday weekend, and did not convene an outbreak control team (OCT).



"No visit was made to the farm over the weekend.



"Had a decision been made on the August bank holiday weekend (or even after it, on Tuesday September 1) to stop all contact with ruminant animals, a substantial number of cases of E.coli O157 could have been prevented."



Godstone Farm eventually shut on September 12, about four weeks after the first case of the bug was reported.



Today's study, commissioned by the HPA, was led by George Griffin, professor of infectious diseases and medicine at St George's, University of London.



Prof Griffin said if the farm had been shut on the Friday, there would have been far fewer cases.



"In the week before the bank holiday several cases were spotted and brought to the attention of the local authority, these were in total three or four cases.



"At this time it would have been absolutely exceptionally good public health to have done something to protect the public - that could have been closing the farm.



"If the closure had been made by the Friday of the bank holiday, there was already 33 cases.



"As time went on there was a delay in closure and prohibition and this number increased to 93."



Symptoms of E.coli infection include diarrhoea and vomiting, and it can cause kidney failure.



It can be especially dangerous in young children because they cannot tolerate much fluid loss.









Practices at the farm were also heavily criticised in today's report, including keeping animals in pens which accumulated faeces - a major source of E.coli spread.



These pens were accessible to children, while animal seepage and runoff was able to cross visitor walkways.



Staff had no training on the risks of E.coli and the assistant farm manager - who was in charge of complying with health and safety laws - "had received no training on his health and safety responsibilities", the report said.



Some of the families affected by the outbreak are preparing to launch a group legal action.



Twenty-seven people were admitted to hospital after the outbreak, with two kidney dialysis units in London filled with children affected by the bug.



Today's report criticised "a lack of leadership and a paralysis of decision-making" by those in charge of controlling outbreaks.



An outbreak control team under-estimated the scale of the risk and the number of cases linked to the farm, it said.



Prof Griffin added: "This outbreak could very likely have been avoided if more attention had been given to visitors being exposed to animal faecal matter.



"Once it had started, there is no doubt that, even with prompt action, this would have been a big outbreak.



"Nevertheless there was a lack of public health leadership by the Health Protection Agency and a missed opportunity to exercise decisive public health action and thereby restrict the size of the outbreak.



"The assessment of risk carried out by Godstone Farm was inadequate and it principally relied on the actions of the public, primarily through hand-washing, to control the risks."



Godstone Farm is the biggest ever E.coli outbreak in the UK linked to animals.



People can become infected with E.coli in several ways, including through consuming contaminated food or drink.



They can also get E.coli through direct contact with contaminated animals, or by contact with an environment contaminated with animal faeces.



Direct spread from person to person also occurs, particularly in families and between children.



Today's report said more attention needed to be paid to the risk of E.coli at all open farms across the country.



It said the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities "continue to regard the risk of infection to visitors at open farms as low" but this level of risk is "not acceptable".



It added: "We conclude that the outbreak at Godstone Farm was not exceptional, other than in terms of its size.



"We believe that, unless the factors described are addressed, other large outbreaks at open farms could occur in future."



Justin McCracken, chief executive of the HPA, said the organisation would act immediately upon all the recommendations.



He said: "The report makes clear that many factors contributed to this incident, including the fact that the HPA should have acted more quickly in this instance.



"The HPA responds effectively to thousands of such outbreaks and incidents each year but of course is very sorry for its part in what happened at Godstone.



"That is why I publicly apologised to parents at the time.



"I am determined that the HPA will work with the other bodies to prevent a similar situation developing in future."



Jill Greenfield, a partner at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, who is representing at least 25 children and one adult, said: "From the evidence in the report, it does appear that at every possible level there were fundamental failings in the handling of the outbreak. Such failings are simply unacceptable.



"Many of the children that I am representing suffered significant pain and distress and continued to require medical treatment.



"We will not know for many years whether or not they will require further dialysis and/or kidney transplants."



Among those affected were Tracy Mock's three-year-old twins, who spent weeks in hospital fighting the bug following a visit to the farm.



Her son, Aaron Furnell, suffered acute kidney failure and has to be taken to the Evelina Children's Hospital in London every six weeks for blood and urine tests. He still uses a feeding tube for ingesting liquids.



His twin Todd, who has 80% kidney function, is due to have a further check-up in September and more tests next year.



Paul Bettison, chairman of local government body the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (Lacors), said farm regulation must not become "too excessive".



He said those affected "deserve our sympathy" but added: "The important thing now is to establish the right middle ground between safety and enjoyment for millions of children."

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Market Administrator (1st line Support, Bloomberg, Broker)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Market Administrator (1st line Support, Trade Fl...

    Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

    Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Server, Reuters)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Se...

    Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, Exchange)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, E...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition