Page last updated at 19:46 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 20:46 UK

E.coli farm 'was open too long'


Tracey Mock describes the condition of her twin toddlers, Aaron and Todd as they recover in hospital

A farm at the centre of an E.coli outbreak that has left 14 children in hospital may have been open longer than it should, health chiefs have admitted.

The total number of cases of E.coli O157 linked to Godstone Farm, near Redhill, in Surrey, now stands at 40.

Horton Park Children's Farm, its sister site in Epsom, is shut as a precaution.

Health protection officials have apologised for delays in their handling of the outbreak and announced an external investigation.

'Position unbearable'

The Health Protection Agency's chief executive Justin McCracken has phoned parents of the children most seriously affected to apologise.

Mr McCracken said: "If this information had been taken into account on 27 August, then the advice given and the steps taken on 3 September would have been introduced earlier and the farm might have been closed earlier.

Godstone Farm and Playbarn
Godstone Farm was closed to the public on Saturday

"I wanted to speak personally to the parents of those children who are most seriously ill in hospital to explain what has happened and, however inadequate under the circumstances, to apologise.

"The position they find themselves in is unbearable and it is of course worse that what has happened might have been avoidable."

The farm was closed on Saturday - although the first E.coli case was reported on 27 August.

A pair of two-year-old twins, from Paddock Wood in Kent, have suffered acute kidney failure.

Previous cases

Initially, the HPA said the first case came to light on 27 August.

It later emerged that the agency had received a report of two cases in the previous week.

Mr McCracken said the investigation would look into factors that contributed to the outbreak and how health protection officials handled it.

It would be led by George Griffin, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Medicine at St George's, University of London, and chairman of the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens.

Thirteen children were taken to hospital

He added: "It is important that we have a full understanding of this outbreak because of the large number of people who appear to have been affected and the wide range of animals involved so that we can all learn the lessons from this serious outbreak."

On Tuesday evening, one of the seriously-ill twins, Todd Furnell, underwent his second blood transfusion at St Thomas's Hospital, London.

Another toddler, Alfie Weaver, was admitted to East Surrey Hospital in Redhill, where he has also undergone blood transfusions.

Of the 14 children to have contracted E.coli, three are said to be improving and six are in a stable condition, but more cases are expected to come to light because of the bug's long incubation period.

Tracy Mock, 38, mother of Aaron and Todd Furnell, welcomed the news of the inquiry.

She said: "I'm pleased that I caused such a fuss because I think it has helped bring it all out into the open.

Second closure

"It is good that the HPA have had the guts to launch this independent external investigation, which is what I wanted to happen.

"But the fact remains that the farm should not have been open when my guys went there after there had been earlier reports of people being ill with E.coli."

She said that if the family had known about the earlier cases, they would never have gone to the farm.

She said Aaron was now awaiting the results of further blood tests, but Todd was expected to have another operation.

Horton Park Children's Farm was closed as a precautionary measure on Wednesday afternoon.

It followed a request by the HPA that an inspection by Epsom and Ewell Borough Council's environmental health department be carried out.

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