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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 June, 2004, 05:46 GMT 06:46 UK
Government 'complacent' over MRSA
The MRSA superbug can be spread by poor hygiene
The threat to people posed by hospital superbugs is not being properly tackled by ministers, according to the Liberal Democrats.

A report by the party says cases of MRSA have risen to record levels, but the NHS is still ill-equipped to deal with the problem.

It warns there is a serious lack of isolation rooms in hospitals, and that many have poor washing facilities.

Health Secretary John Reid said tackling MRSA was "a top priority".

Hospital-acquired infections like MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) affect around 100,000 people in England each year, costing 1 billion and causing an estimated 5,000 deaths.

MRSA rates have increased from just over 1,000 cases per year in 1996 to over 7,000 last year.


The Liberal Democrat report, published on Sunday, follows on from a 2002 report into the issue by the party.

There is no complacency about the issue of MRSA
Health Secretary John Reid
The latest analysis says there has been little evidence of improvement, and says measures which have been introduced - such as a director of infection control for each hospital - will make little real difference.

The Liberal Democrat report, compiled by health spokesman Paul Burstow, says a reduction in the number of hospital beds since 1997 has meant higher levels of bed occupancy, and therefore a higher risk of infection.

It claims many hospitals have inadequate washing facilities, making hand hygiene more difficult to enforce. Handwashing is the prime method of ensuring hospital-acquired infections do not spread between patients.

And it says the NHS only awarded itself 6 out of 10 last year for implementing infection control standards.

The report says there is still no reliable way of determining how many deaths are caused by superbugs each year - even though the death certification process has been changed in a bid to identify cases.

It warns the figures that are available are just "the tip of the iceberg".

'Black mark'

Paul Burstow MP, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "This report is a black mark against the government's record on NHS hygiene.

"The government's approach to dealing with superbugs has been one of utter and extreme complacency.

"People go into hospital to get better. But they are getting sicker because of staff shortages and because infection control is not a high enough priority.

"The government must clean up its act and make progress to stop more lives being lost."

Tim Yeo, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Education, said: "As a matter of urgency, real power must be handed back to the nurses in charge of the wards as only they can ensure that standards do not slip."

Health Secretary, John Reid said: "There is no complacency about the issue of MRSA - I have made it clear that tackling hospital superbugs is one of my top priorities."

He added: "There are some common sense measures already in place to minimise the spread of MRSA - like staff washing hands properly. That is why I am keen to see such schemes introduced more widely.

"But we also need to know more about MRSA, its ever-changing nature and why it is on the increase - 3m will be spent on research and development into hospital acquired infections. We are also stepping up our search for a solution which will eradicate the superbug."

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