Griffin Inquiry into Godstone farm E.Coli 0157 outbreak highlights numerous failings
The Health Protection Agency today announced the findings of the Griffin Inquiry into the E.Coli 0157 outbreak at Godstone farm in August 2009.
This is the largest outbreak of people affected by E Coli 0157 linked to an open farm in the UK. There were 93 people affected and of those 76 were children aged under 10. Of the 93, 27 were admitted to hospital and 17 developed serious kidney problems. Jill Greenfield, partner at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse is currently co-ordinating a group action on behalf of a significant number of the children who suffered serious consequences due to their exposure to the E.Coli 0157 whilst visiting the farm.
The Griffin Inquiry highlights numerous failings at many levels both in the way that Godstone Farm managed its appreciation of the risks to its visitors, but also in relation to the various authorities that were involved in the regulation and subsequent recommended closure of this farm. The report highlights that, at its peak, 1 in 100 visiting Godstone Farm were exposed to E.Coli 0157.
Commenting on the report Jill Greenfield said:
"It is a relief to see that the Griffin Inquiry recognises the very serious nature of E.coli 0157 and differentiates that strain of the bacteria from the normal e-coli that many of us carry. Too many people seem to think that hand washing is the answer; this report makes clear that it is not and a great deal more needs to be done to make Open Farms safe.
"From the evidence in the report it does appear that at every possible level there were fundamental failings in the handling of the outbreak. Such failings are simply unacceptable.
"Many of the children that I am representing suffered significant pain and distress and continued to require medical treatment. We will not know for many years whether or not they will require further dialysis and/or kidney transplants. Their parents have also gone through a terrible experience and it is at least some comfort to them to see that this inquiry is taking matters so seriously. It is particularly important that the report gives clear guidance to the open farming industry in relation to the safety of children and E.Coli 0157."
Jill Greenfield highlights the following key points from the report:
- The report highlights that the symptoms from 0157 can result in catastrophic injuries for young children, causing renal failure, potentially brain damage and death. It explains that this is a new strain of E.Coli, first noted in the US in 1982. It is different to those that society usually comes into contact with.
- It is particularly surprising to us is that it is clear from this report that the farm had previous experience of an outbreak of E.Coli 0157 in 2000.
- The Griffin Inquiry states that Godstone farm failed to provide suitable training to staff members to identify hazards on the farm and to enact suitable control measures as required under health & safety law.
- The report suggests that Godstone Farm showed little evidence that they appreciated the importance of their own actions in controlling the risk to the visitors and that they were not proactive in seeking out best practice and limiting the exposure of visitors to infection by E.Coli 0157.
Specific reference in the report is made to:
- The fact that children were able to climb into pens where they would then have been exposed to faecal material.
- Children’s buggies and wheelchairs were taken through areas where faecal material would have been present.
- A deep bedding system in which bedding is allowed to accumulate in an animal pen over a period of time was being operated. This would have allowed a build up of faeces to be present within the pens in which the children then had walked to feed the animals.
- The indication from the report is that the farm relied heavily upon the parents’ knowledge of E.Coli 0157 and appeared to have adopted hand-washing at the expense of other “crucial controls” (principally the avoidance of faecal contamination). It is also clear in the report that many parents do not know and appreciate the danger of E.Coli 0157. People regularly hear of E.Coli but do not know just how dangerous this particular strain is.
- This report is hard hitting and makes serious recommendations that will assist the open farm industry to regulate and control the running of open farms in the future. This points to an accreditation scheme and for new regulations to be put in place allowing children to continue to visit open farms and to have contact with animals, where it is safe to do so.