Listeria: Contaminated Sandwiches

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 17th June 2019.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 4:39 pm, 17th June 2019

I would like to update the House on the actions the Government are taking to protect the public following cases of listeria in hospitals linked to contaminated food. The NHS has identified nine confirmed cases of listeria in seven different hospitals between 14 April and 28 May this year, all linked to contaminated sandwiches from a single supplier. All the known cases involve in-patients. Very sadly, five people have died. I would like to express my condolences to the families of those who have lost a loved one. I promise that there will be a full and thorough investigation, with severe consequences if there is any evidence of wrongdoing.

Lab testing indicated a link between two cases in Manchester Royal Infirmary and one case in Liverpool. Contaminated sandwiches were identified as the likely cause by Public Health England. The manufacturer—The Good Food Chain—and its supplier, North Country Cooked Meats, have withdrawn the sandwiches, and voluntarily ceased supply of all products on 7 June. They are both complying with the Food Standards Agency on a full product withdrawal. The other cases have been identified at these hospitals: Royal Derby, Worthing, William Harvey in Ashford, Wexham Park, Leicester Royal Infirmary, and St Richards in Chichester.

The risk to the public is very low, but any patients or members of the public with concerns should contact NHS 111 or, of course, 999 if they experience severe symptoms. Listeria infection in healthy people may cause mild illness but is rarely fatal. However, for certain groups it can be much more serious, as we have tragically seen. The NHS, Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency have acted swiftly to identify, contain and investigate the cause of this listeria outbreak. These deaths should never have happened. People rightly expect to be safe and looked after in hospitals, and we must ensure that we take the necessary steps to restore that trust that the public deserve to be able to hold.

This is not just about ensuring that the food we serve in hospitals is safe—the NHS served 140 million main meals to in-patients last year—but, importantly, is also about ensuring that food given to patients is healthy, nutritious, and aids their recovery. So I can inform the House that we are launching a root-and-branch review of all the food in our hospitals—both the food served and the food sold. The Government will work with the NHS to build on progress in three vital areas. First, there is eliminating junk food from hospitals. Since the introduction of the NHS action on sugar scheme, we have halved the sale of high-sugar soft drinks, and trusts are taking action to remove unhealthy food and drink items and replace them with healthier alternatives. After all, hospitals are places for good health. Secondly, on improving nutrition, new national standards for all healthcare food will be published this year. All patient menus will have to ensure that minimum patient nutrition standards are met. Thirdly, on healthier choices, we will work closely with the Hospital Caterers Association and others to ensure that healthier food choices are available across the NHS.

The review will identify where we need to do more, where we need to do better to improve the quality of food in our hospitals, and how we help people to make healthier choices. I know that this is an issue that many colleagues in the House feel strongly about, as do the public. We will do everything we can to ensure that the food we eat in hospitals is both safe and healthy.