Hospital chicken sandwich link to women’s listeria deaths, inquest hears

Two women died after eating hospital chicken mayo sandwiches suspected of containing listeria, an inquest heard.

Retired Jamaican nurse Beverley Sowah, 57, and mother-of-five Enid Heap, 84, were given the sandwiches on successive days while patients at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) in 2019.

Both women, who had underlying ill health conditions, died days later, part of a nationwide alert over the listeria outbreak.

Manchester Royal Infirmary road sign
Both women died at Manchester Royal Infirmary in 2019 (PA)

The source of the bacteria was linked to an external food supplier not the kitchens at the hospital, Manchester Coroner’s Court heard.

A joint inquest for both women, with a jury of five men and two women, began on Monday, scheduled to last up to five days, with loved ones of both Mrs Sowah and Mrs Heap, attending.

Also represented are lawyers for North Country Quality Food, based in Salford, who supplied the chicken to the Good Food Chain, who made the sandwiches from their “Whole lotta Good” range, supplied to hospitals, via a contract with Sodexo.

Both the meat supplier and sandwich maker firms have since gone into liquidation.

The Good Food Chain, based in Stone, Staffordshire, made up to 40,000 sandwiches a day, supplying around 70 hospitals.

Listeria can cause an illness called listeriosis, which can be fatal for people with weakened immune systems.

In opening remarks at the start of the hearing, Zak Golombeck, Manchester city coroner, said, “This case concerns the deaths of two individuals, for whom, there is reason to suspect, they died of a notifiable disease, namely listeria.”

Jamaican-born Mrs Sowah was admitted to Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) on April 15 2019, at the time she was suffering from advanced breast cancer. Two days later she was given the chicken mayo sandwich and died on April 26.

Beverley Sowah
Beverley Sowah was suffering from advanced breast cancer when she was admitted to MRI (Stephen Sowah/PA)

There was no evidence of “sub-optimal” care for Ms Sowah apart from the “hospital-acquired” listeria infection.

Mrs Heap, a retired chemist shop assistant, was admitted to the MRI on March 25 2019 and was served the same type of sandwich on April 18. She died on May 6.

Mr Golombeck said the “primary hypothesis” was the source of the listeria infection was the chicken sandwiches consumed by both women.

The hearing was told the Manchester listeria outbreak had the same genetic link as another outbreak in Liverpool.

Dr Kirsty Dodgson, consultant microbiologist at the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the MRI, said in a statement a number of outbreak meetings were held to identify the source of the listeria and the Health and Safety Executive and Public Health England became involved.

She said it became a nationwide investigation due to other listeria cases in other locations across the country.

The inquest was adjourned until Tuesday morning.