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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 October 2007, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Watchdog told to target superbugs
Hand washing
Hand washing is the most effective way of battling MRSA
A new health watchdog is to be set up by the government with wide-ranging powers to tackle hospital bugs.

It comes as ministers struggle to meet a target for next year of cutting MRSA and are grappling with rising rates of Clostridium difficile.

The Care Quality Commission will have the power to close wards and order more frequent checks.

It replaces the Commission for Social Care Inspection, Healthcare Commission and Mental Health Act Commission.

The watchdog will focus on safety and quality across health and adult social care services, in both the NHS and the independent sector.

The NHS has been suffering from too much reorganisation and, it appears that, as soon as doctors and managers start getting used to one system, it's all change
Hamish Meldrum, of the British Medical Association

In particular it will be able to close services that are unsafe, or where there is some other serious breach which is putting patients at risk.

But it will also be able to hand out fines, launch investigations and issue warnings where necessary.

Many of the powers are already available to the existing regulators, but ministers hope tougher action will be taken by merging the responsibilities into one body.

The Care Quality Commission will also have an important role in supporting patient choice, through assessing and providing information on the performance of providers of adult social care and health care, and in ensuring value for taxpayers' money.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said the emphasis reflects the fact tackling infection remains "a challenge".

"I am determined that we will take action where necessary to safeguard patients and ensure staff feel able to report concerns."

Proposals

He added: "The regulator will have tougher powers to inspect and even close wards in order to protect patients and service users.

"NHS staff, such as matrons, nurses and porters, who spend every day on the wards, need to feel able to report concerns to the new regulator."

The proposals are included in the Department of Health's response to a consultation launched last year.

The regulatory framework is set to be outlined in a Health and Social Care Bill which will be introduced to Parliament later this year.

But Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association, said: "While we recognise some of the arguments for rationalising the process of regulation, the BMA is concerned that, only a few years after the Healthcare Commission was set up, it is about to be abolished to make way for yet another, new regulatory body.

"The NHS has been suffering from too much reorganisation and, it appears that, as soon as doctors and managers start getting used to one system, it's all change."

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