A hospital remained closed to new patients today after elevated levels of the potentially deadly legionella bacteria were found in its water system.

St George’s Hospital in Hornchurch, east London, shut its two wards housing 44 patients following the discovery of the bacteria during routine water testing, North East London NHS Foundation Trust said.

Other services remain open subject to an ongoing review.

Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by breathing in small droplets of water contaminated with legionella bacteria.

But hospital chiefs stressed it is not uncommon for testing to detect the bacteria and most people exposed do not contract Legionnaires’ disease.

The symptoms are mild headaches, muscle pain, fever, persistent cough and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea.

A statement from North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) said: “During routine water testing at St George’s Hospital in Hornchurch, preliminary results show elevated levels of legionella bacteria in sections of the water system.

“To ensure the safety of patients at the hospital, NELFT has made the decision to move bed-based patients from the hospital.”

Patients were being moved to other accommodation yesterday.

The statement added: “We are closed to inpatient admissions. Other services on site will remain open and are subject to ongoing review. Final test results are expected on Monday.

“It is not uncommon for routine testing to detect legionella bacteria. Legionella bacteria are widely distributed within the environment and can be found in artificial water sources such as water towers associated with cooling systems, domestic water systems and spa pools, and natural water sources such as rivers and streams.

“Most people exposed to the bacteria do not become ill with Legionnaires’ disease (a type of pneumonia) and the illness cannot be spread from person-to-person.”

Plans had already been under way to move inpatient facilities from St George’s following concerns relating to the estate infrastructure, the trust said.