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Last Updated: Friday, 20 August, 2004, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
'I never want to go into hospital again'
By Mike Baker
BBC Education Correspondent

Mike Baker
Mike fears he will not be able to run again
Mike Baker tells how being hit by a hospital superbug has left him with permanent damage - and how he hopes never to have to go into hospital again.

"They are the words you dread as you lie in a hospital bed: "The tests confirm you have an infection".

"I had been admitted 48 hours earlier. My left knee had become painful, swollen and was oozing a nasty yellow fluid.

"Just a week before I had undergone 'key-hole surgery' on the knee for a ligament injury incurred in the gym.

"Now it seemed that during that operation, at Ravenscourt Park Hospital in west London, an infection had invaded the knee-joint.

I am really sorry to criticise any part of the NHS as I am deeply indebted to the many wonderful staff who treated me
"I had read a lot about the so-called hospital 'super-bug', MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). I knew it could kill and that it was spread by a lack of cleanliness in hospitals.

"I was terrified. Fortunately, it turned out that I had a related strain called MSSA which was more sensitive to antibiotic treatment.

"It was still a nasty: the doctors said I had it 'about as bad as you can get'. A normal blood protein count (an infection indicator) was below 5. Mine was 230. I was told it was 'very likely' to lead to permanent damage to the joint."

'Nooks and crannies untouched'

"I spent the next 18 days in my local Kingston Hospital, worrying whether I would walk again, as my body received four times daily intravenous doses of antibiotics.

"I had two more trips to the operating theatre where 10 litres of fluid were pumped through the knee to 'wash-out' the infection. Each operation, involving 10-12 hours 'starvation' ahead of the general anaesthetic, left me very weak.

"I became obsessive about hospital hygiene. Although I remain grateful to Kingston Hospital for treating the infection, I have to say I was not confident about all their hygiene methods.

"The cleaning of my ward was often dilatory. There appeared to be no cleaning at weekends.

"If objects lay in the way of the mop or hoover they were not always moved. The nooks and crannies of the ward were rarely touched. No-one appeared to supervise the cleaning.

"The toilets were a disaster area. I saw silver-fish, small insects that thrive in damp and dirty conditions, lurking in the corners.

"There was no hot-water tap in the toilets making it impossible to wash your hands thoroughly.

"MRSA can be passed-on by touch, particularly if nurses come in contact with an open-wound and then pass from one patient to another.

"The ward was equipped with two bottles of an alcohol-based hand-wash gel designed to counter infection, but I rarely saw anyone using them."

'Learning to walk again'

"There were other concerns. Once, while half-asleep in the middle of the night, I was given a pin-prick blood test which was intended for another patient.

"Then the man in the neighbouring bed was whisked off to an isolation ward with suspected MRSA.

"His bed was thoroughly stripped and cleaned. But no-one cleaned the handset which every patient handles dozens of times a day to change the radio or TV channels or make phone-calls.

"Slowly the infection subsided and my strength returned, although I could still walk only a short distance with the aid of crutches."

Handwashing
"After I was discharged I remained on antibiotic tablets for many more weeks and had to learn to walk again.

"I was off work for over two months. The family holiday had to be cancelled - and the travel insurance company refused to cover the costs arguing the infection was indirectly the result of my pre-existing knee injury.

"Worst of all, X-rays confirmed the infection had done permanent damage to the cartilage in my knee.

"I can no longer play my regular sports, hockey and tennis, and it is unlikely I will be able to run again. I cannot yet walk any distance without pain.

"The knee is undoubtedly worse than before the original operation.

'Indebted'

"Ravenscourt Park Hospital promised it will look into my case, but, several weeks on, I have heard no more.

"The hospital says these problems do occur but 'are most commonly the result of infections that already exist on the patient's skin'.

"This is no explanation. About one in three of us carry the Staphylococcus Aureus bug on our skin or in our noses. That is why operating theatres are supposed to be sterile areas and patients and staff are washed and disinfected before they enter.

"It has been a sorry and painful episode. I am really sorry to criticise any part of the NHS as I am deeply indebted to the many wonderful staff who treated me.

"But I hope I never have to enter hospital again and that more will be done to improve hospital cleanliness."

A spokeswoman for Ravenscourt Park Hospital confirmed it was looking at Mr Baker's case.

She added: "Any invasive procedure carries a risk because this bacteria is carried on the skin. But doctors always warn patients of this risk."

Carole Heatly, Chief Executive at Kingston Hospital NHS Trust said: "We can only apologise for Mr Baker's experience.

"We recognise that there is still more for us to do to improve cleanliness on site, which is a hugely important area for us."

She said MRSA rates at the hospital had fallen by 38% in the last year.


SEE ALSO:
NHS failings hit superbug fight
14 Jul 04  |  Health
NHS faces superbug legal claims
08 Apr 04  |  Health



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