Tackling Legionnaires’ disease using FOI

A debate in Parliament yesterday on Legionnaires’ disease provides another example of the many and varied benefits of freedom of information.

A company used the law to challenge a government policy on the best method for combatting the disease. The National Health Service recently updated its guidance to read: “the temperature control regime is the preferred strategy to maintain systems free from Legionella and other water-borne organisms”

This claim was contested by ProEconomy, a company that specialises in treatment using copper-silver ionisation, which they have effectively used to keep water systems free from the disease since 1993. Because of the word “preferred” in the guidance, customers of ProEconomy who had successfully applied their copper-silver ionisation process are moving back to a regime of temperature control after years of legionella-free water and water systems that ran at temperatures lower than those recommended in the document. ProEconomy’s future has not only been jeopardised but it is concerned that the guidance, which they state was written without taking into account research showing the inefficacy of temperature control, represents a substantial risk to the public.

They requested the scientific studies on which the new guidance was based. They asked three times but were refused each time. Finally under the freedom of information law, 31 scientific papers were produced. They were examined by a team of university graduates and legionella experts whom ProEconomy asked to assess them. They concluded that none of the 31 papers supported the temperature control regime. Three were against it, 21 did not discuss it at all and seven were in favour of copper-silver ionisation.

So what we have is a department that spent taxpayer money over a five-year period to a produce guidance that does not appear to be supported scientifically. This should give the lie to the idea that policy-making in secret is at all beneficial to the public.

4 Responses to “Tackling Legionnaires’ disease using FOI”

  1. Duncan Brown says:

    As someone who has been supporting corporate uk customers achieve legionella management
    control in the water services of their office premises for 18 years (150+clients over 1000
    buildings in uk)It is our experience at ems that temperature control is an effective means
    of preventing contamination entering domestic water services turning into colonation of
    such services.

    Ionisation or chemical treatment can help where older building services have been heavily
    colonised but so can “trace heating” for domestic hot water systems.

    The key problems we see occur where the customer believes they can “engineer out the problem”
    so although ionisation may be part of the strategy on occasion, the most effective means is
    still temperature control with active monitoring to identify when potential conditions occur that
    could have led to colonisation. So I agree with the guidance that the preferred means should
    be temperature control.

  2. Ian Bateman says:

    As someone who regularly discusses this matter with engineers working on hospital sites I would like to ask Duncan Brown how many of his sites reach the prescribed temperature at EVERY outlet within the required time. I have yet to visit one hospital site that can make that claim and if they cannot make that claim then temperature is not an effective method of control.

    The original document that was issued for consultation by NHS Estates included silver/copper ionisation as equal to ionisation (and chlorine dioxide) and did not state temperature as a preferred method but clearly someone changed their mind between consultation and issue of the final document. This is a shame because ionisation is at least equal to and in many cases more effective than temperature and a lot less costly or harmful to the environment and because of this short sighted attitude the public are being put at an increased risk.

  3. Janet Albano says:

    I would be grateful if you could forward refs of the scientific papers mentioned in this report.

  4. John Turner says:

    I would also appreciate refs of the papers refered to in your report. I am involved in the design of large water
    systems around the world. Recently I discussed two projects a £600M PFI Hospital and University that only had trace
    heating as its main source of treatment, words fail me, but it cheaper than having secondary circulation I was
    reliably informed by the contractor. On projects in the Middle East water frequently cold water enters the
    buildings at 35-45 deg C. in such circumstances temp control goes through the window.

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