Hospital admissions for waterborne diseases have surged by 60 per cent in England since 2010 amid data showing the number of hours of sewage released by South West Water (SWW) doubled in the last year.

NHS figures show that the number of people suffering from diseases caused by polluted water, including Weil’s disease and dysentery, soared from 2,085 in 2010-11 to 3,286 in 2022-23.

It was the worst year for sewage spills since records began, showing that sewage was discharged for a record 3.6 million hours across England last year.

This comes after data from the Environment Agency showed that sewage from storm overflows spilling into South Hams’ waterways doubled from 36,591 hours in 2022 to 74,556 hours in 2023. The data also shows there were more than 7,200 spills in 2023 compared to 4,844 spills the year before.

The Environment Agency said the rise could partly be due to the country experiencing one of the wettest years on record, but critics say the scale of the discharges proves that the privatised water industry has failed to invest sufficiently in infrastructure.

Increased raw sewage in waterways also raises the likelihood of people falling ill to infections such as gastroenteritis, E. coli, hepatitis A and Weil’s disease, which can cause liver damage and kidney failure.

The South Hams Society, a local environmental and heritage charity, this week issued a statement condemning the “never-ending sight of sewage on the streets of Kingsbridge this winter” amid the latest data on sewage spills in the South Hams.

The group said that “no fewer than 189 of our combined storm overflows spilled sewage for more than a thousand hours” in 2023.

It added: “Princetown was the location that suffered the worst, where the combined total from the two outlets came to an astonishing 7,911 hours, or the equivalent of 54 minutes in every hour throughout the year!

“Elsewhere Harberton, Buckfastleigh and Harberton all saw collective hourly totals the equivalent of more than 20 minutes in every hour. In almost every instance the problem was more pronounced last year than it was in 2022, and considerably worse than in 2021. There can be no doubt that we have a problem.”

The association is organising a meeting on Thursday (April 18) at the Crabshell Inn in Kingsbridge to discuss the issue of sewage pollution.

Last month, SHDC leader Julian Brazil called on residents to stop paying their water rates if SWW failed to come up with a costed plan to upgrade the sewage pipe network within two months.

He accused SWW of paying out dividends to shareholders and executives instead of investing on infrastructure.

Last June, SWW’s owner Pennon Group increased its dividend to shareholders, paying out £112m despite a pre-tax loss.

SWW has consistently blamed extreme weather conditions, including heavy rainfall, for sewage spills and flooding. It recently advised residents to not flush wet wipes and sanitary items down the toilet as it can block sewer pipes following a spate of incidents in Kingsbridge.