Page last updated at 10:07 GMT, Thursday, 18 September 2008 11:07 UK

New weapons against hospital bugs

By Helen Briggs
BBC News


New weapons in the fight against MRSA are being trialled in the NHS

It looks like a scene from a crime film. A door frame sealed with sticker tape and adorned with "No Entry" signs.

But this is a hospital ward not a movie set, and behind the door is a cleaning robot that could play a key role in the NHS's fight against hospital infections.

"It's safe now, we can go inside," says Dr Gopal Rao, microbiologist, and chairman of the hospital's infection control committee.

Inside, an automated cleaning machine has been pumping out hydrogen peroxide gas to kill any bacteria in the room, he explains, including "the dreaded MRSA and C diff spores".

Dr Rao
Dr Rao: The new block has been designed to reduce infection

Lewisham Hospital, which serves around 300,000 patients in south east London, is one of only a handful of showcase hospitals" selected by the government across the UK to pioneer new methods for controlling superbugs.

The hospital was one of the first to bring in alcohol hand gels at the end of beds, back in the early 1990s.

In 2004, it started testing adults arriving at A&E for the superbug MRSA. The aim is to pick up such infections before patients are admitted, so appropriate precautions can be taken.

Dr Rao is clearly passionate about his work. As we walk through the new seven-storey block of the hospital he points out features that are designed to help control infection.

"See no sharp corners," he says, gesturing towards the edges of the walls. "And we have no radiators to make cleaning easier."

'Top of the agenda'

The outside of Lewisham Hospital retains the original brick fašade which was built more than a hundred years ago. But behind, a gleaming new hospital has sprung up. The wards and bays have been designed to allow more space around beds than in older hospitals; meaning infection is less likely to spread from person to person.

Nurse Debbie Flaxman (BBC)
Debbie Flaxman: She regularly checks cleaning standards

We visit an orthopaedic ward with huge windows looking out over a park. There are just four beds, one in each corner. Here, Dr Rao demonstrates another potential weapon in the war against hospital infection; a portable monitor that detects high levels of dirt and germs within minutes.

Consultant nurse for infection Control Debbie Flaxman arrives on a tour of duty. She routinely inspects wards to check that cleaning has been carried out properly.

This includes visual inspections of commodes and other hospital equipment, and checking for dust on ledges and under the bed.

"I think patients should feel reassured that most trusts have infection control at the very top of their agenda," she says.

Hospital wipes 'spreading MRSA'
03 Jun 08 |  Health

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