Ross Kelvin Burden: Legionnaires’ Disease


Celebrity chef Ross Kelvin Burden was a regular on the television cookery show, Ready Steady Cook. His life was cut tragically short by Legionnaires’ disease at the age of just 45.

Following a successful bone marrow transplant as part of his treatment for leukaemia in July 2014, the New Zealand-born chef had been recovering in an Auckland Hospital. However, the hospital’s infected water system led to his death on 17th July, the coroner’s court ruled. The tragic case highlighted the need for better controls to be put in place to reduce the risk of such an occurrence ever happening again.

Born on 16th December 1968 in Napier, New Zealand, Burden found fame as a contestant on the BBC show, MasterChef, in 1993, when he reached the final. He went on to become a celebrity chef on Ready Steady Cook (the BBC’s flagship TV cookery programme) for around eight years.

He also presented Taste (the cookery TV show launched on Sky One in 2005) and wrote two books and various columns for magazines. In 2010, he was invited to judge the first season of MasterChef New Zealand with Ray McVinnie and Simon Gault.

Ross Burden and a Masterchef logo

After being diagnosed as having leukaemia, Burden’s treatment required a bone marrow transplant. Although the operation at Auckland Hospital in the summer of 2014 was a success, he was said to have breathed in Legionella bacteria that was present in the hospital’s hot water system following his surgery.

Initial media reports suggested he died as a result of leukaemia, but his mother (former nurse Jude Harwood) revealed her son had been doing well following the transplant. However, after being diagnosed with standard pneumonia, he was given a nebuliser to assist his breathing. It was reported that the nebuliser was continually filled up with tap water, when it should have been filled with sterile water. Burden’s mother believed this was the cause of the Legionella infection.

Following the inquest, Auckland Hospital chiefs apologised to Burden’s family after the coroner ruled a series of failures had led to his death from Legionnaires’ disease. The chief coroner, Deborah Marshall, released a report which revealed it wasn’t the first time the hospital had been linked to a Legionella scare.

A year prior to Burden’s death, a child at the hospital had also contracted the disease and the coroner stated the hospital had failed to properly implement the recommendations made at the time. The child had also been in the hospital for a bone marrow transplant, but subsequently contracted Legionella in 2013.

The child recovered, but the Auckland District Health Board had launched an investigation into the hospital’s water systems after the scare. Margaret Wilsher, chief medical officer, had revealed their investigations found the hospital’s water system was not functioning correctly. The levels of copper and silver ions were not high enough to prevent the growth of Legionella.

Although corrective action had been taken, Legionella growth had increased, leading to Burden’s fatal infection. Chief coroner Marshall said the recommendations made in 2013 had not been adequately followed up – monitoring was described as “less than resilient”. The test results showing a rise in Legionella growth had not been noticed. Nor had any action been taken as a result of the test results.

The pH levels in the hot water system were not sufficiently controlled and the monitoring system for Legionella detection couldn’t reliably detect contamination in the hospital.

Together with our reliably effective noise reduction solutions, Sound Planning also specialises in water safety and quality management to combat the risk of Legionnaires’ disease. This is an often fatal form of pneumonia caused by the legionella bacteria, which grows best in warm water. It is commonly found in cooling towers, in the air-conditioning systems of large constructions, in hot tubs and in large plumbing structures.

In all kinds of public buildings in the UK such as schools, colleges, leisure centres, industrial premises, warehouses, care homes and office blocks, the management must be aware of the risks associated with Legionnaires’ disease and take the appropriate action. Current Health and Safety laws require a Legionella risk assessment and water management programme as mandatory. Please contact us for further details.

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