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EDITIONS
 Saturday, 25 January, 2003, 00:36 GMT
Superbug patients 'barred' from care homes
Nursing home
Care homes feel under pressure

Older people who contract the so-called "superbug" MRSA in hospital are being prevented from returning to care homes, despite the fact that experts say it is safe for them to do so.

Government guidance makes it clear that no one who has contracted MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) should face discrimination.

But home owners say their hands are tied by insurance companies, who might increase premiums and could turn down applications.

I very much got the impression that if anyone mentioned MRSA the shutters came down

Gill Perrett
Gwen Wilkey contracted MRSA in hospital after breaking her hip.

The infection can take months to clear, but Mrs Wilkey and her daughter Gill Perrett thought she would be able to recuperate in the care home where she had lived for two and a half years.

But when the home, Oakland Court in Felpham, West Sussex, found out she had MRSA, they refused to have her back.

Ms Perrett said: "The main motivating factor for my mum throughout this entire five months in hospital was to get back to Oakland Court.

"She saw that as a real positive goal to achieve, and the news that she wasn't going to be accepted back was really devastating."

Stigma

A spokeswoman for the home told the BBC it could not comment on individual cases because of the need to protect patient confidentiality.

But they pointed out though that current legislation requires them to accept clients only if they feel they can provide safe and appropriate care for them.

Gill Perrett says the home would not listen to reassurances from the hospital and infection control nurses.

She said: "I very much got the impression that if anyone mentioned MRSA the shutters came down.

"They didn't want to have a discussion about it, they didn't want to know about it.

"It was almost as if it was some sort of stigma."

Financial ruin

Tracey Cooper, a consultant infection control nurse, said there is no justification for institutions discriminating against MRSA patients.

"MRSA can be controlled very easily by just normal good hygiene measures. It doesn't need anything special in a nursing or residential home," she said.

But she added: "I've come across this on a number of occasions in my previous jobs and talking to colleagues it's not something that is completely uncommon."

You can't force someone to offer a place to someone they don't want to offer a place to

Trish Davies, National Care Standards Commission
Clive Neale-Smith, who runs Highgrove House nursing home in Worthing, said: "We have other patients other residents to consider we have our staff to consider.

"MRSA when it takes hold is almost impossible to eradicate."

He warned care homes were often small businesses with tight margins, and if an infection spread to other residents and their relatives decided to sue, it could mean financial ruin.

"Insurance companies cover us for a million pounds for an incident each year. What happens if we have a second or a third or a fourth incident and claims are made?"

Homes' own decision

Department of Health guidance says care homes must not discriminate against people with MRSA.

But the National Care Standards Commission, which regulates care homes, admits there's no specific standard or regulation about treatment of people with the bug.

The commission's Trish Davies said: "We are expecting the homeowners to be reasonable about this and to have an eye to their business.

"If MRSA is on the increase or is generally very prevalent then to some extent it's in their interest to make sure they're able to receive people with that particular problem but ultimately it's for them to decide how they want to specialise in what kind of care they're providing.

"You can't force someone to offer a place to someone they don't want to offer a place to."

Gwen Wilkey eventually found a place in another home and is recovering well.

But increasing numbers of MRSA cases are being reported in hospitals at the same time as the government is threatening to fine Social Services departments if they can't find places in care home for people ready to leave hospital.

If homes are unwilling to take patients unless, and until, it can be proved they've recovered from infection, the difficult job of freeing up hospital beds will be even harder.


Have you had a similar experience? E-mail christopher.hogg@bbc.co.uk

See also:

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