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

The shadow Secretary of State raises important questions, and I will try to address them all. Ultimately, I strongly agree with him that this is about standards of care. People deserve to be able to trust that the food they eat and are given in hospital is safe and, indeed, nutritious and good for their health—that is an important part of this too. Clearly, the most acute aspect of what we are discussing is safety and the lack of listeria in food, but it is part of a much bigger picture, which is why we are having a root-and-branch review.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the hospital food plan, which NHS Improvement has been leading. The review will be wider than, but will encompass, some of the existing work that is ongoing. It is about not only how food is procured by hospitals, but the quality of food. Work on the national standards in hospital food is important. It has been ongoing for several years and will come to fruition very soon. More broadly, dozens of hospital trusts have brought their catering in-house and found that they get better quality food that is more likely to be locally produced and is better value for money. We will be examining that model closely, because I am very attracted to it, and it has the potential to reduce the risk of safety concerns such as this.

The hon. Gentleman asked about timings. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Seema Kennedy, was made aware of this outbreak on 4 June. I was informed on 6 June, and we published the details of the outbreak on 7 June.

Before that, Public Health England very swiftly identified that there was a link between these particular listeria outbreaks. It is only because of recent advances in genomic medicine and testing that we could work out—that Public Health England could work out—that the outbreak in Liverpool and the outbreak in Manchester were connected, and therefore identify that the source was outside those hospitals, rather than inside the hospitals, and that is what then identified that this was from the food source. The truth is that there are just over 150 listeria cases a year. It is a notifiable disease, so we are confident that we are properly notified of the various cases. Frankly, it was cutting-edge work by Public Health England that allowed us to connect these different cases and work out that a single source was causing these deaths.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the 43 trusts that we know bought from the Good Food Chain. We have of course been in contact with all hospital trusts, whether or not they bought from this individual company, to try to make sure that we have confidence in their supplies. The Good Food Chain has confirmed that it has followed advice and has disposed of all products. That is what the Good Food Chain company has said to us, but we are of course reconfirming that with the trusts because we want to get this right.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about investment in food and catering facilities. The truth is that it is important to have the best-quality food in hospitals. I am completely open to upgrading hospital equipment if that is what is necessary, and if it provides value for money. I have been struck by the number of hospital chief executives who have said that from the point of view of patient satisfaction, staff morale, and nutrition and the quality of food, bringing such food supplies in-house is the best thing they have done.