Published: 15/08/2002, Volume III, No. 5818 Page 18 19

HSJ 's take on how the media is covering health Step aside Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.A new media public enemy no.1 - the 'killer bug'was set to dominate the headlines as the worst outbreak of Legionnaire's disease for a decade, plus cases of cryptosporidium and E coli hit the UK.

'Killer bugs grip Britain, ' shouted theDaily Express .And just in case it still wasn't clear, 'thousands of people were under threat from killer bugs yesterday as a health crisis gripped Britain'.

'I really thought I was going to die, 'exclaimed a headline in The Times , temporarily mistaking itself for The Sun .A correspondent vividly described how mother-of-three Elaine Kite, 46, feared for her life when doctors told her she had Legionnaire's disease.Despite stories of this type regularly hogging headlines, Ms Kite 'did not think things like that happened in this country'.

Unlike Ms Kite, a spokeswoman for University Hospitals of Leicester trust thought 'things like this happen all the time in hospitals across the country'.She was referring to events that had taken place at the trust in the last three months.

These included a man's body being left in a hospital bed for 15 hours on a summer's day because a doctor could not be found to certify him dead, a still-born baby abandoned in a bodybag under a porter's desk for nearly two days, and possible AIDS infection after unsterilised instruments were used during surgery.'Hospitals must once again become places to get well, places of safety, not potential death traps, ' said the Daily Express .

The family of 86-year-old Frederick Thomas might agree.Mr Thomas, who was admitted to Manor Hospital in Walsall with a broken hip, died from kidney failure on the day of his diamond wedding anniversary after staff failed to ensure he was given enough to eat or drink for 12 days and did not administer a prescribed drip.His condition was only spotted after he was transferred to another hospital.

The canny Royal College of Nursing press office sniffed an opportunity, both to head off a possible witch hunt and to promote the college's key message that pay and conditions need improving dramatically.

Moving the debate on, RCN general secretary Beverly Malone explained in The Observer that it was the system and lack of manpower to blame rather than individual nurses.