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Last Updated: Friday, 15 July, 2005, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
Dirty hospitals to escape charges
Image of hospital cleaning
NHS hospitals in England will have to meet the new laws
New laws to ensure hygiene standards are met in England's hospitals will not include the possibility of criminal charges, the government has now said.

Launching a consultation on the plans, ministers expressed concern that hospitals might not disclose relevant details in order to avoid prosecution.

Large fines were also ruled out because of the possible impact on patient care.

However, hospital bosses could be sacked for failing to tackle problems such as superbugs.

Key measures

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt had originally said in May that failing hospitals could face prosecution.

The measures to crack down on hospital hygiene are contained in a statutory code which would apply to all NHS bodies, independent healthcare providers and care homes.

We are delighted that the government ...reject the option of introducing criminal sanctions against NHS trusts
Dr Gill Morgan, NHS Confederation chief executive

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).

Watered down

In some circumstances, this might lead to the dismissal of the trust board or individual members.

Ministers said the sanctions were likely to be applied only in "the most exceptional circumstances".

Proposed measures
Code of hygiene set to improve standards
Healthcare Commission to monitor compliance
Failing institutions given "improvement notice"
Continued failure referred up and could lead to dismissal

Health minister Patricia Hewitt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The ultimate sanction here, if you have a hospital that simply isn't getting to grips with the problem, is you would get rid of the senior official who wasn't getting the job done."

She said the government had stopped short of suggesting criminal prosecutions because of concerns hospitals might be tempted not to disclose relevant information.

The threat of large fines was also rejected as sums big enough to have an impact were likely to affect patient care.

Similar proposals will be extended to the private and voluntary health care sectors and to care homes, she said.

Ms Hewitt said she believed that hospitals would take the new measures "extremely seriously".

"What we wanted was a system that would ensure very fast action and an absolute focus on making our hospitals safe.

"If they are not doing enough to get infections under control and if the Healthcare Commission is telling them `Here are the steps you have got to take in our statutory improvement notice' and they know their jobs are on the line, that is tough stuff and I have no doubt at all it will work."

Blame won't help

Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "We are delighted that the government proposals published today reject the option of introducing criminal sanctions against NHS trusts if the code of practice is breached - singling out individual managers for blame won't help beat MRSA.

"Tough decisions need to be taken to tackle healthcare associated infections but they need to be taken by NHS trusts in partnership with patients, the public and their staff."

Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley accused the government of being complacent over hospital acquired infections by not acting quicker.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Steve Webb said legislation would not solve the problem.

He said: "The most effective solution is to tackle the high bed occupancy rates which means nurses do not have time to clean beds properly and patients are shunted from ward to ward."

See some of the measures used to tackle superbugs

Hospital hygiene shake-up planned
17 May 05 |  UK Politics

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