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'Systematic failures' in public health lead to listeria, says expert

"Systematic failures" in public health have led to the deaths of nearly 20 people, including five linked to listeria, according to the former health director.

Independent public health consultant Professor John Ashton described 17 deaths linked to separate outbreaks of listeria and streptococci earlier this year as "serious failures" in the public health system.

The former Northwest Regional Public Health Director from 1993 and 2006 said that as public health responsibilities shifted to local government in 2013, public health facilities were "disbanded", while budgets and salaries were cut "dramatically".

Writing in The Royal Society of Medicine magazine on Friday he warned that nearly a decade of austerity and "massive cuts" in local government budgets have led to environmental health departments no longer able to "keep up with threats". on human health »

He added: "Now is the time to digest these latest failures of the public health system, which came into operation just six years ago, as part of Andrew Lansley's structural changes to the WHO and public health.

"There is a schism in which clinical perspectives in local government are disappearing and links between local authorities and the NHS have become even more dysfunctional.

"This has been reflected in deteriorating performance in areas that include sexual health, immunization and vaccination and screening programs.

"To add to the agony, 10 years of austerity and massive budget cuts by local governments have resulted in attracting environmental health departments that no longer have the capacity to monitor human health threats despite their best efforts."

Between writing his report and publishing, the number of deaths related to listeria increased from five to six, and those from streptococcus increased from 12 to 13.

Professor Ashton has compared two major incidents that caused 41 deaths in the mid-1980s, including the occurrence of salmonella and legionella food poisoning.

He said these outbreaks were followed by "radical changes" in local government that "exposed" the existing public health system.

According to a 1988 investigation, the lack of effective local environmental control and infectious diseases was considered crucial to both events, he said.

Professor Ashton warned that the lesson of history should not be incorporated into another reorganized "stupidity".

He added: "So, in 2019, just six years after the package of cards was thrown into the air and public health reorganization in the NHS-style top-down, we have a systemic problem that results in the deaths of 17 older citizens who deserve better

"The lesson of history is that we should not start with another reorganized stupidity, but find ways to reinforce what we have now and support its evolution into something that is appropriate for the purpose."

Public Health England (PE) earlier this month announced that a sixth person had died after eating pre-packaged sandwiches and salads linked to a listeria outbreak.

The most recent death was one of nine cases previously confirmed and HZ said there were no new cases.

The patient, whose age and sex were not given, developed listeriosis from a good food chain product while at the West Sussex Foundation Home West Sussex Foundation, the FA said.

The Food Standards Agency has previously confirmed that the Good Food Chain, which went into liquidation in June, is not a source of outbreaks.

The NHS Mid Essex Clinical Comming Group reported last month that 13 people had died of group A invasive strep.

Health bosses have previously reported 12 deaths as a result of the spreading of the rare bacterial infection, but an additional case has been added to the total after PEC reviewed how the cases were defined.

Dr Nick Finn, deputy director of the National Infectious Diseases Office, PHE, said: "PHE quickly identified the extent and source of the recent listeria outbreak, using the entire genome sequence that undoubtedly saved lives. The public health system works 24/7 to keep the country safe from infectious diseases and other health hazards. "

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