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The BBC's Health Correspondent, Fergus Walsh
"Effective infection control is not rocket science"
 real 56k

John Denham MP, Health minister
"It is so important that we get a grip on this problem"
 real 56k

Three patients
recount their experiences of infection in hospital
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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 13:40 GMT
Hospital bugs kill thousands
Sterile gloves
Doctors and nurses need to take care not to spread infection
The NHS must inject more resources into the "fatal and hugely expensive" problem of hospital-acquired infections, says a Parliamentary committee.

The House of Commons public accounts committee says up to 5,000 patients die from a hospital-acquired infection every year, costing the NHS 1 billion.

Many of these infections could be prevented, say the MPs.

And in a poll of over 800 doctors by medical website Medix, eight out of ten say hygiene rules are 'commonly broken' in hospitals. Three quarters believe poor infection controls are putting lives at risk unnecessarily.

A report by the Commons' committee demands a "root and branch shift" towards preventing the spread of infections.


Every year thousands die and 1 billion leaks from NHS coffers

David Davis
Public accounts committee chairman

Committee chairman David Davis said: "Hospital-acquired infection (HAI) endangers patients' lives and is a major drain on NHS resources.

"Every year thousands die and 1 billion leaks from NHS coffers. While it will never be entirely preventable, there is more the NHS could do to combat this problem.

"It must be addressed as a matter of urgency and should be allocated adequate resources."

Prevention

The 'Management and Control of Hospital Acquired Infection' report estimates there are at least 100,000 HAI cases each year.

The report accepts the government is introducing initiatives to improve standards, but says: "A root and branch shift towards prevention will be needed at all levels of the NHS if HAI is to be kept under control.

"That will require commitment from everyone involved, and a philosophy that prevention is everybody's business, not just the specialists."

Hospital infection causes
Misuse of antibiotics - has led to drug resistant infections
Poor hospital hygiene
High patient throughput
Too few infection control nurses

Research suggests 50% to 70% of surgical wound infections happen after patients are discharged from hospital. The committee is calling for them to be monitored through the existing national surveillance scheme.

The report says existing knowledge and infection control techniques could cut cases by 15% and save the health service 150m a year.

Doctors and nurses failing to wash their hands between treating patients has been identified as one of the main causes of HAI.

The report says: "We find it inexcusable that compliance with guidance on hand washing is so poor."

Infection control

Mr James Johnson, chairman of the Joint Consultants' Committee, told the BBC doctors and nurses could pay much greater attention to improve hygiene standards, but said too few single rooms in hospitals meant patients with infections could not always be isolated.


We find it inexcusable that compliance with guidance on hand washing is so poor

Commons report

"These people have to be nursed on general wards and, of course, that makes it very much easier for these infections to spread."

The report accepts extra infection control nurses have been appointed, and that 5m is being invested to improve infection control over the next two years, but criticises the Department of Health and NHS, which are unlikely to have the statistics needed to assess the extent of the problem for three to four years.

Dee May, infection control advisor for the Royal College of Nursing, said all staff should pay more attention to basic hygiene measures.


People have to be nursed on general wards and, of course, that makes it very much easier for these infections to spread

James Johnson
BMA joint consultants' committee

"Infection control and hand-washing in particular is not considered sexy, it is not high tech, it is basic, but it does work - but we don't do enough of it. It is something we should be very ashamed about."

She added senior staff, particularly doctors, should set better examples.

Ministerial response

Health Minister John Denham said the government had begun to put into place prevention measures that had been neglected for many years.

He said a mandatory system of reporting hospital acquired infection was being introduced, and the data would be made available to the public.

This would allow people to see what was going on in their local hospitals, providing a powerful stimulus for improvement.

Mr Denham said: "The experts tell us that about 15% of hospital acquired infection is preventable and that has got to be our target."

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See also:

17 Feb 00 | Health
Hospital infections: case studies
12 Jun 00 | Health
Action on superbugs
22 Nov 99 | Health
Superbugs in the firing line
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