Health chiefs have launched an urgent probe after one baby died and fourteen more were left fighting for life after being poisoned by contaminated drips.
The vulnerable babies, who were all in intensive care in neonatal units, developed septicaemia after being infected with bacteria in their food.
The bug – called Bacillus cereus – causes blood poisoning and was fed to mainly premature babies who are extremely vulnerable to infection.
Public Health England (PHE) said the cases have been “strongly linked” with a number of batches of a particular form of intravenous liquid called parenteral nutrition, which was given to the babies.
The liquid, manufactured by ITH Pharma Limited, is supposed to deliver a variety of nutrients intravenously when a baby is unable to eat on their own.
A PHE spokeswoman said that investigations with the company have identified “an incident that might have caused the contamination”.
The affected babies were in neonatal intensive care units at three London-based NHS organisations – Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and The Whittington Hospital – as well as Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Luton and Dunstable University Hospital.
But officials have not confirmed which unit was treating the baby who died.
“Many of the babies were premature and very vulnerable and one baby has sadly died but the others are responding to antibiotic treatment,” the spokeswoman said.
She said that PHE and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) confirmed that an investigation has been launched into the issue.
The manufacturer has issued a recall and the MHRA has issued an alert to draw attention to the product recall.
PHE said that doctors have also been given advice on identifying any potential cases of infection and how to dispose of affected stock.
“This is a very unfortunate incident and PHE have been working closely with the MHRA to investigate how these babies could have become infected,” PHE’s incident director, Professor Mike Catchpole, said.
“Given that the bacteria is widely spread in the environment, we are continuing to investigate any other potential sources of infection.
“However all our investigations to date indicate that the likely source of the infection has been identified.
“We have acted quickly to investigate this issue alongside the MHRA and we have taken action to ensure that the affected batches and any remaining stock of this medicine is not being used in hospitals.”
Adam Burgess, manager of the MHRA’s defective medicines reporting centre, said: “Patient safety is our top priority and we are working alongside PHE to establish what has happened. We have sent inspectors to the manufacturer’s facility to carry out a detailed and rigorous inspection and we have ensured that the potentially affected medicine is recalled.”
London-based ITH Pharma Limited was not available for comment tonight.
But on its website it boasts how it has set “new standards of reliability in the industry”.