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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 June, 2005, 07:15 GMT 08:15 UK
'Fog of ignorance' over superbugs
Image of hospital cleaning
NHS hospitals in England will have to meet the new laws
There is still a "fog of ignorance" over hospital superbugs such as MRSA despite years of warnings, MPs say.

The Public Accounts Committee criticised ministers and the NHS for a lack of urgency over ward cleanliness, hand hygiene and side room shortages.

New figures show a 6.1% drop in overall MRSA infections, despite an increase in almost four out of 10 hospitals.

Health minister Jane Kennedy said NHS trusts were fully engaged in combating hospital-acquired infections.

'Worrying situation'

Committee chairman Edward Leigh told Radio 4's Today programme that four years after the committee asked the government to insist on mandatory reporting of all hospital-acquired infections, it was still not being done.


He said there was mandatory reporting of MRSA, but this only represented 6% of around 300,000 infection cases a year.

The report by the cross party group of MPs also called for the much-quoted figure of 5,000 deaths a year from hospital-acquired infections to be updated, as it related to the 1980s.

"We don't know in detail how many people are actually dying - some of these figures go back to the 1980s. It is a worrying situation," said Mr Leigh.

Everybody knows full well...hospitals are not as clean now as they were 30 or 40 years ago
Edward Leigh
Public Accounts Committee

He said that despite hospitals being increasingly hi-tech, basic procedures "talked about for 100 years" were not in place.

"If we don't know what's going on, how can we get a grip on this problem?" he added.

"Everybody listening to this programme knows full well...hospitals are not as clean now as they were 30 or 40 years ago."

The committee called for a surveillance scheme for all hospital infections - only about 20% are currently monitored.

And the MPs concluded there needed to be a root and branch shift towards prevention at all levels of the NHS.

Control teams

Ms Kennedy said England had one of the most detailed surveillance systems in the world.


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She said: "Every trust has infection control teams... and have signed up to the 'clean our hands' campaign.

"We were the first government to introduce mandatory surveillance of MRSA."

Ms Kennedy added a raft of infection rates for conditions, including Clostridium difficile associated diarrhoea and glycopeptide-resistant enterococci, would be published later this year.

She also highlighted the latest MRSA infection rates for English hospitals, which showed a yearly drop for the first time since records began in 2001-2.

The 6.1% fall means the bloodstream infection rate is at its lowest level yet, but is still well short of meeting the target of fewer than 4,000 cases by 2007-8.

Good hygiene

Dr Georgia Duckworth, an MRSA expert at the Health Protection Agency, said there was still a lot of work to do.

"The most important thing to remember in the control of hospital infections such as MRSA is good hospital hygiene and in particular washing hands thoroughly in between patients."

MRSA graph

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb accused ministers of being obsessed with producing initiatives to "grab headlines".

"The government's figures don't tell the whole story. The government must collect and publish the facts about the true level of infection in the NHS, including MRSA and other serious infections."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the report had proved the government had been complacent.

"Pressure from the National Audit Office, the Conservative Party and the media has forced the government to announce a number of initiatives in the space of the last few months, but these respond only to a fraction of the problem and are too often delayed."

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