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NHS food review ordered by Health Secretary after further listeria deaths

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has instructed the NHS to conduct a review of hospital food. Credit: PA

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ordered a "root and branch" review of NHS food after two more patient deaths were linked to a listeria outbreak.

The former Conservative leadership hopeful said he was "incredibly concerned" after it emerged patients were suspected of dying after eating pre-packaged sandwiches and salads linked to The Good Food Chain, which supplies food to NHS hospitals.

The announcement of the two deaths on Friday brings the total count of listeria-linked patient deaths to five.

The products have been withdrawn from hospitals and Public Health England (PHE) suggested the deaths were linked to items removed from circulation on May 25.

A screengrab from the The Good Food Chain website, based in Staffordshire, which produced the sandwiches. Credit: The Good Food Sandwiches

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 and the Food Standards Authorities (FSA) are carrying out a joint investigation.

Two of the first three victims died at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, while the third died at 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The first case showed symptoms on April 25 and sandwiches and salads were withdrawn on May 25, as soon as a link with the cases was suspected.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.

Two of the three patients died after eating sandwiches at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. Credit: PA

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.

Five patients who were seriously ill have died from listeria. Credit: PA

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”.

Who are The Good Food Chain?

On the company's website, it boasts how "for over 20 years we have supplied prestigious Universities, Business & Industry and Sporting Venues in the UK".

The Good Food Company adds "proud to be revolutionsing sandwiches for healthcare patients" and that its products are "designed around today's patients".

It also says that its "products are handmade, using fresh ingredients and has been accredited by industry standard rewards".

The Good Food Chain also has a glowing endorsement from the Department for Health on its website which says: "Hospital food is an essential part of patient care. Good food can encourage patients to eat well, aiding their recovery from surgery or illness.

"Patients should receive food that is safe, of good quality, nutritious, well presented and served at a time convenient to them."

The Good Food Company has a production facility in Stone, Staffordshire.

Who are North Country Quality Foods?

North Country Cooked Foods produces the meat, which is distributed to North Country Quality Foods, who specialise in cooked meats, canned goods and cheese.

According to North Country Quality Foods's website, the company was established in 1967.

It is unclear what types of products The Good Food Chain buys from North Country Cooked Foods.

The company is based in Salford, Greater Manchester.