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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 September 2007, 03:31 GMT 04:31 UK
Brown pledges hospital bug battle
Hospital bed
Hospitals may have to shut a ward while cleaning is carried out
NHS hospitals are to be ordered by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to conduct a "deep clean" to tackle the spread of infections such as "superbug" MRSA.

He wants the cleaning to be pre-emptive rather than a reaction to outbreaks.

But critics question how effective such moves are, saying it is staff, patients and visitors who carry MRSA.

Meanwhile, comments by the PM that he wants to make the NHS's future the key issue at the next election have added to speculation about an autumn poll.

BBC political correspondent Norman Smith said the comments to the Sunday Times, which coincide with the start of the Labour Party conference, would be seen by many as evidence that he is weighing up the shape and timing of any contest.

'Ready for poll'

On Saturday, Labour's election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander said the party was ready for a general election whenever Mr Brown chose to call one.

Recent opinion polls suggest the party is in a strong position, with an ICM poll for the Sunday Mirror giving Labour a six-point lead over the Conservatives.

The poll of 1,029 adults, carried out by phone on 19 and 20 September, gave Labour the same lead as a previous ICM/Sunday Mirror poll in August.

A ward at a time, walls, ceilings, fittings and ventilation shafts will be disinfected and scrubbed clean
Gordon Brown

The announcement of the ward-by-ward clean marked Mr Brown's first initiative since arriving at the Labour Party conference on Saturday.

In the Sunday Times, Mr Brown also promised a reduction in waiting times for cervical screening from six weeks to two and to extend the age range for routine screening from 47 to 73.

In the News of the World, he vowed that over the next 12 months all hospitals would be restored to a pristine state of cleanliness to rid them of infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

Turnover of beds

He said: "A ward at a time, walls, ceilings, fittings and ventilation shafts will be disinfected and scrubbed clean."

Some NHS trusts have already adopted these new cleaning systems and Mr Brown is keen others follow that example.

However, members of the healthcare community who contest the "deep clean" action believe the high volume of bed turnover in wards is a more serious issue.

We've had years of ineffective tinkering and complacency around the problem of tackling superbugs like MRSA and C Difficile
Norman Lamb
Lib Dem health spokesman

Roy Lilley, a former NHS trust chairman and the author of a book on healthcare management, told the BBC he thought the "deep cleaning" idea was "irritatingly populist".

He said: "This will get a huge round of applause from the Labour Party conference floor and everyone will say 'yes, he's the man that's cleaning up the hospitals'.

"But at the end of the day, the infection control systems are about handwashing; it's about clinical discipline and it's about screening people before they come in.

"You can clean a hospital on Monday and on Wednesday, you'll be back where you started."

'PR ploy'

Officials said that it would be up to individual NHS trusts to decide how the cleaning programme was implemented, but it could mean wards closing for a week at a time to be cleansed.

Shadow health minister Mike Penning said the announcement was a "cynical PR ploy".

And Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "We've had years of ineffective tinkering and complacency around the problem of tackling superbugs like MRSA and C Difficile."

He said a "serious change of culture within hospitals and care homes" would have a more long lasting impact than "grand gestures".

Earlier this year, the Health Protection Agency said that between April 2006 and March 2007, there were 6,378 cases of MRSA hospital infections reported, compared with 7,096 for the previous year.

Meanwhile, there were 15,592 reported cases of C. difficile in patients aged 65 and over in England in the first quarter of 2007 - up 2% on the similar period in 2006.


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