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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 July, 2004, 20:08 GMT 21:08 UK
New bid to tackle superbug rates
Hand washing
Hand washing is key to reducing MRSA rates
The government is set to introduce new measures to tackle hospital superbugs.

The health secretary says patients and staff will have more power to deal with the issue and experts will come to the UK to work on reducing infections.

John Reid told the BBC on Sunday: "It's the people's priority so it has to become a priority for the National Health Service."

Mr Reid will set out detailed proposals on Monday. Hospital acquired infections kill some 5,000 people a year.

Although it has made previous efforts to reduce hospital acquired infection rates, the government says it is still a problem and the NHS has not done "well enough" in tackling it in every hospital.


On Sunday Mr Reid told the BBC Britons were concerned about the superbug MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) and associated questions of cleanliness.

MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) first appeared in the 1960s
Some strains are resistant to almost all known antibiotics
Cases have increased by 600% in the past decade
Cases are expected to double again in the next six years
Efforts to combat it cost the NHS 1bn a year

"We need to involve patients more by giving them more information and encouraging them to take up the cleanliness issue with local staff.

"If we are going to do that we then need to say that there has to be more practical power to staff at the ward level."

Mr Reid said research needed to be done into what would kill the new superbugs which he said were more resistant to "the normal antidotes that would have been useful in killing them off 10 years ago."

"I want to bring the best people in the world on this - from the Netherlands and places like that - across here to work with us in our hospitals and report to me on what we ought to be doing."

The health secretary said the government's investment in aging NHS buildings should also help combat superbug infections.

"There's no doubt one of the factors, if you're going to have hygiene and cleanliness at the highest level, is to have buildings where you can have isolation wards and where you can have a higher proportion - as we are now building - of single rooms."

Monday's release

Monday's document - Towards Cleaner Hospitals and Lower Rates of Infection - comes as the National Audit Office prepares to publish a progress report on how hospitals have tackled infections, following a major study of four years ago.

It is expected to say hospitals in England will have to meet national standards, and be inspected to see how successful they are in reducing hospital acquired infection rates.

Mr Reid will say all hospitals "should raise standards up to the level of the best".

John Reid, MP, Health Minister
Mr Reid says ward staff will get more to deal with MRSA

The UK's largest health union Unison has welcomed the plans as encouraging a "quality" healthcare system.

But general secretary Dave Prentis emphasised that hygiene could only be improved if more cleaning staff were employed.

"It cannot be a coincidence that while the number of cases of MRSA has been going up, the number of cleaners employed has been going down," he said.

"Today we have a third of the number of cleaning staff in hospitals compared to 15 years ago and it is patients who are paying the price."

But the Conservatives have criticised the government for failing to successfully tackle hospital acquired infection.

In an open letter to the MRSA Support Group setting out how the Tories would cut rates, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley, said: "After years of focussing on particular targets like waiting lists, only now are they focussing on infection control.

"This is made even more incredible given that a recent survey has revealed that patients care more about hospital cleanliness than waiting times."

The Liberal Democrats have also accused the government of failing to get a grip on the superbug.

Their health spokesman Paul Burstow said: "People go into hospital to get well, yet every year the equivalent of seven and a half district general hospitals are filled with people who got sicker because of superbugs.

"Shortages of beds and pressure to hit Government waiting time targets have combined to drive up infection rates in the NHS."

MRSA makes up just 44% of hospital acquired infections, but it is the focus of efforts to cut rates because it is resistant to antibiotic treatment.

The BBC's Janet Barrie
"MRSA is resistant to almost all known antibiotics"

John Reid MP, Health Secretary
"There has to be more practical power to local staff at ward level"

'Superbug' crackdown is launched
05 Dec 03  |  Health
Overcrowded hospitals breed MRSA
01 Jul 04  |  Health


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