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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
'Cleaner hospitals' claim challenged
Ward scene
Standards are improving, say ministers
Figures showing NHS hospitals have improved food and cleanliness standards have been criticised as bearing no relation to patients' experiences.

Every hospital in England has been given a "traffic light" rating by the Department of Health based on a series of inspections of both cleanliness and catering.

Results published on Wednesday show 192 hospitals were awarded the top "green" rating for cleanliness and food, double the number that received the rating last year.

The latest assessment gave 78% of hospitals a green rating for their cleanliness, up from 60% last year.

The ratings bear no relation to the quality of care that patients are receiving
Dr Liam Fox, Shadow Health Secretary
And it reported a rapid improvement in catering standards, with 43% of hospitals given a green rating, up from 17% last year.

No hospitals were given the lowest "red" rating for cleanliness or food standards,

Health Minister, Lord Norman Warner said: "There is still more to do before we provide the high standards which always meet patient needs and generally exceed their expectations but these latest results show that we have made progress towards consistently high quality hospital food services that are well-regarded by patients."

Controversy

However, there is some dispute over the validity of the ratings system.

A recent NHS national patient survey continued to highlight concerns over hospital cleanliness among patients - more than one in ten thought the toilet on their ward was dirty, and 7% thought the ward itself was not clean.

Reports suggest that the level of "hospital-acquired infections" is actually rising fast.

Some experts have criticised handwashing facilities at certain hospitals.

They say that it is not always possible for health staff to wash their hands in between treating each patient - which could contribute to the spread of infection.

Criticism

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP, said 15 out of 20 hospitals with the highest levels of the MRSA superbug infection had been given a green rating.

He said: "Everybody knows that you can't trust the Department of Health's statistics assessing their own performance when they are created by the Department of Health itself.

"The picture painted by a Department of Health's recent survey of 95,000 patients revealed that 11% of patients said bathrooms and toilets were dirty and 7% said the same about wards.

"Surely this should set alarm bells ringing? In an average hospital of 14 wards, one of those wards could be expected to be dirty.

"Today's figures merely undermine the credibility of the star ratings system even further.

"The ratings bear no relation to the quality of care that patients are receiving."

He added: "The government must start to put patients first and stop using the NHS for their own political ends.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Dr Evan Harris MP said: "The clean hospital programme should be prosecuted under the trade description act. It is nothing of the sort.

"It covers different standards of which only one is about cleanliness and none are about the control of infection."

He added: "The government regularly uses the clean hospital programme as evidence that they are tackling the problem.

"The reality is that this measure should give no-one cause for confidence. It measures the wrong things and fails to measure them well."


SEE ALSO:
NHS hygiene 'not up to scratch'
15 Jan 03  |  Health
Dirty wards blamed for superbugs
03 Jun 03  |  Scotland
UK top of superbug league
14 Mar 02  |  Health


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