Norovirus at Bretton Water Park

08: 06 Tuesday 14th August 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY GALL: After a silence of more than two weeks, Peterborough City Council has agreed to speak to us about the outbreak of norovirus at the Bretton Water Park. .. Paul Phillipson is the Director of Operations at the City Council and joins us now. .. So firstly it’s been confirmed that it was an outbreak of norovirus that’s caused the problem.

PAUL PHILLIPSON: Yes, that’s right. I’m responsible for the environmental health officers who’ve done the investigation in relation to this. And we’ve made contact with .. what .. 119 children, and over 64 families. Now we obviously haven’t tested samples from every single one of those families, but it’s fairly obvious that the actual virus that was responsible for this is the norovirus. And as you heard the doctor explaining, albeit not in the pool environment, the spread of that virus can take place from human to human, and it can be through water, or it can be through contact, or through the air.
ANDY GALL: But as you’ve been hearing from some listeners to BBC Cambridgeshire, they’re concerned that they were still pretty much unaware as to what had happened for a long time after the outbreak. Why has it taken so long for the City Council to come forward with an explanation?
PAUL PHILLIPSON: Well in reality, nobody will ever know exactly how this disease was transmitted. We’re fairly certain from the investigations that we’ve done, and the knowledge that we have about the disease, and the way in which we work with the Department of Health, that the disease has to have been brought to the Park by a child or adult. At the end of the day, it can’t grow and stay outside of the human body for any more than about 48 to 72 hours. So ..
ANDY GALL: We heard complaints from parents that the toilets were filthy. How do you respond to that criticism?
PAUL PHILLIPSON: Well, what we’ve done is we’ve gone through the whole of the Park, and the way in which the Park is managed. We’re working with our contractors Enterprise to look at the way in which we can improve the facilities within the Park. I mean that Park was extremely heavily used on the Tuesday, which is when this outbreak ..
ANDY GALL: But Paul, if a park is heavily used .. we’ve heard from people that were there that they said that there was just one person who was managing the Park. One person looking after all the children, doing all of the checks on the toilets, doing all the cleaning. He can’t. If the Park is as busy as you claim it to have been , then why on earth was there just one person who was working there?
PAUL PHILLIPSON: Well no, you wouldn’t expect one person to look after children. The parents are there to look after the children. The adults are there to look after the children, at the end of the day.
ANDY GALL: But surely there has to be somebody there as an overseer of everything, to make sure as a lifeguard.
PAUL PHILLIPSON: As you’ve already identified, you wouldn’t need a lifeguard in a walk-in park with half a millimetre of water at the most. At the end of the day, what you need somebody is somebody who manages the facility, who understand the chlorination of the facility, who understands how to switch off the facility, and can support in relation to the toilets.
ANDY GALL: I would still argue though that even if there is a small amount of water in the Park, you can drown in a very small amount of water. So I’m surprised that you don’t believe it’s ..
PAUL PHILLIPSON: As you’ve just identified, that’s exactly how the facility is managed. There is somebody there, looking after the facility at the time. Now what I’ve done with the environmental health staff is look to ways in which we can improve and reduce the ways in which that contact can actually take place. So like I said, the norovirus is spread by somebody that came to the Park with the disease. They may or may not have known it, as well. This is a really important message to parents. At the end of the day, if your children are poorly, don’t let them go into a facility. Because as you heard from the health expert there, there is no way that you can chlorinate a park or a pool to a level that will prevent the spread of norovirus through it. Now this is very uncommon. This does not happen, so I don’t want to put people off water parks, or paddling pools, or swimming pools, or any of our facilities that we have across the city in relation to this. But what I’m saying to you is that we as a city council want to make really sure that it’s safe for people. And you’re right. I have spoken to people that have been to the Park. I’ve got three separate families who are friends of mine. And if we hadn’t have been away on holiday, it’s highly likely that my own children would have been in that park on that day.
ANDY GALL: OK. When will it reopen then Paul?
PAUL PHILLIPSON: It’s really important for me to make sure that we get everything right. I went round the facility again with our contractors. They’ve done some work within the toilets to improve the set up and systems within the toilets. I want to do more. I don’t want to prevent the Park from opening before the end of the year. But those works may be ..
ANDY GALL: Before the end of the year? Some people are hoping perhaps that the Park will be open before the end of the summer break.
PAUL PHILLIPSON: Yes. And what I’m hoping, what I’m going to aim for, is that we hope to aim for the Park to be open for the Bank Holiday weekend, which as you know is in less than two weeks time.
ANDY GALL: And will people recognise a difference in the way that the Park is managed when it’s reopened again? Will there be more staff for example?
PAUL PHILLIPSON: Yes. No. They will already recognise a difference in relation to some of the facilities that we put within the toilets. But I’m still not happy that we need to put more in there. I need some baby-changing facilities to go in there as well. I need some different set-ups in relation to that. We’ve got people at the end of the day, when you go to a swimming pool, you don’t drink on purpose the water from in the swimming pool. We accept that some of it will go into your mouth, but we don’t see people filling up drinking bottles out of swimming pool water. What we see at the Bretton Water Park is we’re seeing people filling up drinking bottles out of it. Now ..
ANDY GALL: Well clearly then there has to be .. people have to be properly educated when they go there.
PAUL PHILLIPSON: Exactly. And that’s why we need improved signage, we need better education. We need people to understand how the facilities work, and how they’re managed. And we will make sure that there is constant oversight in relation to that.
ANDY GALL: But do you accept then Paul that previously the Park had been first of all understaffed, and it just hadn’t been managed properly?
PAUL PHILLIPSON: No, we’ve not changed the staffing in relation to this. And you know ..
ANDY GALL: But you are going to change the layout of the Park. You’re going to put different signage up to make sure that people are aware of the dangers, and how to behave properly within the Park.
ANDY GALL: So these things clearly weren’t there beforehand were they?
PAUL PHILLIPSON: Let’s not forget that we have had no outbreaks at this park before, nor have any of our other pools. What we’re doing here is we’re putting extra facilities and support in around that park, just to make sure that when there’s high volumes etcetera that are using it in r elation to that, we do everything we possibly can to prevent it. But at the end of the day, if a child walks into that park, and is ill in the toilets, or is ill in the water, that virus can still spread. We cannot guarantee ..
ANDY GALL: As a public relations exercise Paul, have you been in touch with the families whose children have fallen ill?
PAUL PHILLIPSON: At the end of the day ..
ANDY GALL: Paul? Have you been in touch with the families of the children who fell ill.
PAUL PHILLIPSON: At the end of the day, we’ve been waiting to conclude our work in relations to the work that we’ve done within the Park. And the final investigation .. I’ve spoken to the environmental health officer that was in charge of the report last night. And we will contact the families that we’ve had contact with, just to confirm and to give them the support. At the end of the day, the norovirus, as you quite rightly explained, it’s commonly known as the winter vomiting bug. It’s extremely unpleasant, and like I said I’ve spoken to some of the families that have been affected by this. And I know that that is not a pleasant virus to have. It’s vomiting and diarrhoea. But at the end of the day, as long as you remain hydrated, it will clear up within a couple of days.
ANDY GALL:OK Paul. Thank you very much for talking to us this morning.