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Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 00:05 GMT
Government 'lethargic over MRSA'
By Hannah Goff
BBC News health reporter

MRSA
MRSA can be deadly
Health officials have not decided which trusts are to be visited by MRSA "hit squads" a month after the move was announced, the BBC has learned.

Ministers said in February the superbug teams would be sent into the 20 trusts with the "biggest MRSA challenges", but since then only three have begun work.

The Department of Health said it always planned to allocate the teams over the coming months and denied undue delays.

But opposition politicians accused the government of "lethargy" over MRSA.

The specialist teams were announced by Health Minister Jane Kennedy in early February, after new figures revealed a rise in the number of MRSA infections.

'Sensible'

She also said half of trusts were not meeting their MRSA targets.

The same day she said the work would start at three trusts, Sandwell, Northumbria and Aintree, who had volunteered for help.

But since then no more trusts have been allocated with the teams, even though the Department of Health released tables of trust's MRSA records.

The Department of Health says it is in the process of setting up five specialist teams, but they will not be able to go in to all 20 trusts simultaneously.

A spokesman said it did not have a "finalised list" of trusts to be targeted and that the next wave would only be decided "over the coming months" once the teams were ready.

Talk is cheap but lives are at risk
Andrew Lansley
Shadow health secretary

He added: "It is not taking a long time - it is actually quite a sensible way of doing things."

He argued that those with the worst records could change from month to month because there were only a small number of MRSA infections.

But he also said trusts needed to volunteer for the help and media descriptions of the teams as "hit squads" were mis-representative.

He added that the department was also legislating to put a hygiene code and a tougher inspection regime into law with sanctions for trusts that failed to deliver.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said he had repeatedly pressed the government to take urgent action to deal with the risk of infection.

"Time and again they talk about what they are going to do and it's never pursued with the necessary urgency.

"Talk is cheap but lives are at risk," he said.

'False economy'

"If these hits squads are to be effective then it is urgent they do their work."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said: "This sounds incredibly lethargic and lacking in urgency and the fact that this is voluntary is unbelievable.

"We keep hearing from ministers about task forces and action plans but what is it that stops them from taking MRSA seriously?

"It seems to be yet another symptom of the fact that they are not tackling this problem with the urgency it deserves.

"The problem would be made even worse if the present financial crisis is leading to the loss of frontline staff in infection control."

Mike Hayward, nurse adviser for acute and emergency care at the Royal College of Nursing, said there had been reports of infection control nursing posts being frozen in some cash-strapped trusts.

"It would be a false economy to cut these posts at a time when MRSA and other health care-associated infections are a number one priority in the public mind and also a key government target," he said.

He added: "The RCN wants to see a strategic plan from the Department of Health on exactly how these hit squads are going to work and how they're being utilised."

Officials were not moving as quickly as they could be, he said.

Other measures such as providing nurses with laundry facilities in hospital so they could wash their uniforms at the very high temperatures required to kill infections should also be put into action, he said.




SEE ALSO:
Taking on the hospital superbug
09 Feb 06 |  Health


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