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Insight

A plea to anyone running farm events

The Lancashire Telegraph reported this week that the firm behind the farm attraction where more than 30 children and adults were affected by E-coli has been liquidated to make way for a management buy-out. In the meantime, Huntley's Country Store in Samlesbury, near Preston is operating normally.

Almost exactly three years ago, during spring 2014, 15 children were confirmed as having contracted E-coli 0157 after they attended a lambing event at the farm, with others taken ill.

Constant worry

Four of the children were very seriously affected and were hospitalised. They all developed a deadly bug called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, which caused their kidneys to fail, three required dialysis, and all now live with the threat of adverse effects as they grow up constantly hanging over them and their families. I continue to deal with several of these cases.

Harry Wilson, the managing director of the firm currently in charge - Huntley's Country Stores Ltd - admitted breaching health and safety regulations and continues to pay the fine imposed by Magistrates.

Hand washing not enough

That company, which let children bottle feed lambs, was criticised for using the same hand basins for visitors to wash their hands to clean animal feeding dishes and for allowing children to roll around in straw covered in faeces on the site.

The most common protection at farm events like these is to ask anyone handling animals to wash their hands but I'm afraid these types of precautions do not go nearly far enough.

Children are at barrier height. Their shoes and clothes pick up everything around them. They drop their toys and put them and their fingers into their mouths without thinking. Hand washing is clearly sensible advice, but it is not the solution.

E Coli 0157 is a particularly nasty bug which is passed to humans through animal faeces. The bacteria need to be ingested and exposure to just 10 organisms is enough to make someone ill.

No treatment for E-coli

Once the devastating bacteria get into a person's system, there is no treatment. Antibiotics can even make it worse. E Coli 0157 attacks the kidneys and can lead to renal failure At worst, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) can cause brain damage and even death.

The Government had the chance to listen to the Griffin Inquiry after the Godstone outbreak. It concluded that while the risk to children was small, it was extremely serious and new guidance should be issued. One of the key recommendations of this guidance was the introductions of a Regulatory Framework that would ensure that Farm safety was properly assessed and called for the introduction of national accreditation scheme for Open Farms. These recommendations were not followed. If they had been, the tragedy of Huntley's may never have happened.

Danger time

As the time of year approaches where children are encouraged to spend more time outside and schools and clubs organise fun trips, my concern is that any firm running sites and events such as those at Huntley's takes on board on the seriousness of protecting visitors from E-coli.

We should have learnt our lesson from the Godstone Farm outbreak in 2009, which led to 93 people being affected by E Coli 0157, followed by Huntley's five years' later. No-one wants a repeat of the awful tragedy that saw a fun day out turn to disaster and I sincerely hope that any company taking over at Huntley's listens to advice and enforces strict safety measures to keep everyone safe.