HINCHINGBROOKE Hospital’s new managers are set to spend an extra £120,000 to protect patients against legionnaires’ disease.

When Circle took over management of the hospital in February on a 10-year management franchise, the company's head of facilities and estates, Mark Cammies, set up a new regime of inspection and testing for the legionella bacterium, which is often found in stored water and can cause pneumonia-like infection when ingested as droplets.

Circle stressed yesterday (Tuesday) that no one had been infected and that the £120,000 was precautionary investment to ensure that clean bill of health continued.

"The previous regime was not thorough enough, so we have put in a programme of much more rigorous testing," a spokesman said. "As a result, we found a few isolated areas where there are higher than normal levels of the bacteria. The presence of the bacteria is not unusual in NHS hospitals," she added.

Circle's investment has already extended to installing filters in shower-heads in wards - a practice that is commonplace in hotels - and the programme includes spending £30,000 on a new chlorination system, £70,000 on the hospital pipework to eliminate areas where water can stand, and putting in a new flushing system in wards where showers are used infrequently.

Legionnaires' disease is so-called because the bacterium was isolated as the cause of an outbreak of a 'mystery illness' at a convention of the American Legion in Philadelphia in 1976. it is believed to have been transmitted through a hotel air-conditioning system.