Details of proposed legislation to ensure good hygiene standards in England's hospitals and care homes have been revealed.
NHS hospitals in England will have to meet the new laws
Institutions that fail to meet the tough new code would be issued with improvement orders, announced Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.
Continued failure could lead to sanctions, including criminal prosecution, she said.
The proposals are part of government's move to reduce infections such as MRSA.
The Department of Health will consult on all of the proposed measures in Health Improvement and Protection Bill in the summer.
Patricia Hewitt said: "Tackling MRSA and other healthcare associated infections is a top priority for this government.
"The NHS has made a good start, with many hospitals already cutting their MRSA rates. But more work needs to be done.
"We want an effective inspection regime that can really make a difference and drive up standards of hygiene and infection control across the board."
The statutory code would apply to all NHS bodies, independent healthcare providers and care homes.
Code of hygiene set to improve standards
Healthcare Commission to monitor compliance
Failing institutions given "improvement notice"
Continued failure referred up and could even lead to criminal prosecution
The Healthcare Commission would be responsible for monitoring whether these institutions were complying with the code.
Any that failed to meet the hygiene standards would be issued with an "improvement notice" stipulating the action that the body should take and within what timescale.
If the organisation met the standards in the required time period, no further action would be taken.
However, if it failed, the Healthcare Commission would then refer the case up to the Secretary of State (or the Monitor if it is a Foundation Trust).
In some circumstances, this would lead to criminal prosecution.
However, this would be a last measure and would be extremely rare, said a Department of Health spokesman.
Broadly similar provisions will be set out in regulations which will apply to the private and voluntary healthcare sector and to the social care sector, both regulated under the Care Standards Act 2000, he said.
Dame Gill Morgan, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "We welcome today's announcement on a new hygiene code.
"The consultation will provide a good opportunity for us to debate the real issues on MRSA.
"Rates of MRSA are low and going down. But one case is too many, so we must tackle the problem.
"Steps can be taken. These include very strict rules on hand hygiene and general hygiene for patients, staff and visitors.
"Everyone in the health service - managers, doctors and nurses alike, goes into the job because they want to make a difference. The Health Improvement and Safety Bill should help them do their job better, not instil a simplistic blame culture over such a multi-layered problem."