Page last updated at 01:04 GMT, Monday, 24 November 2008

Acute hospitals fail hygiene test

Contractors steam clean hospital beds
Three trusts were told to tackle decontamination failures

Only five out of 51 acute hospital trusts in England passed a hygiene spot check carried out by the NHS watchdog.

The Healthcare Commission found the majority failed to meet standards introduced to fight hospital infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

While most of the failures did not pose an immediate risk to patients, it said nearly all the trusts had to do more to control the spread of infections.

The Patients' Association said it was dismayed at the failures.

The spot checks were part of the biggest inspection programme ever carried out in NHS acute trusts, who deal with a wide range of emergency medical conditions.

Clean uniforms

Only five adhered to the government's hygiene code, which came into force as part of the Health Act 2006.

Just over half failed to keep all areas clean and well-maintained, the watchdog said.

The Healthcare Commission is very clear that the vast majority of breaches were minor and did not pose a threat to the safety of patients
Health Minister Ann Keen

However, inspectors found most had improved in relation to leadership and ensuring uniforms were clean and fit for purpose.

In areas where breaches did cause a serious risk, managers were told to take immediate action.

Three trusts were given improvement notices to tackle failures in decontamination processes.

They were Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust, Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, and Ashford and St Peter's Hospitals NHS Trust.

Zero tolerance

Chief executive Anna Walker said it was clear the NHS was paying close attention to infection prevention but there were still "gaps that need closing".

"Trusts have made real progress with many getting good systems in place and demonstrating clear board leadership on this important issue.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust
Kingston Hospital NHS Trust
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
St George's Healthcare NHS Trust
St Helen's and Knowsley Hospitals NHS Trust

"Now the challenge for trusts is to ensure they drive further sustained improvements by getting the right systems in place all of the time.

"In particular, trusts need to ensure their wards are consistently clean and well maintained, and they have good decontamination and isolation arrangements."

Katherine Murphy, director of the Patients' Association, said patient safety should be the primary concern of every trust board in the country.

"It is wrong the additional costs generated by having to deal with healthcare-acquired infections has a detrimental affect on the funding of other areas of healthcare," she added.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said the mindset of the NHS should be one of "zero tolerance" when it came to hygiene.

"Considering the horrifying death toll from superbugs, it is very disturbing that adequate systems are still not in place in very many of our acute hospitals," he said.

'Isolated incidents'

Health Minister Ann Keen said progress had been made in controlling the spread of infections in the past few years.

"The Healthcare Commission is very clear that the vast majority of breaches were minor and did not pose a threat to the safety of patients.

"It is encouraging to see that most lapses in cleanliness were isolated incidents. Several of these were minor issues, such as cluttered rooms.

"Nonetheless, the NHS should take any breach - no matter how minor - extremely seriously."

From April, the new Care Quality Commission will have the authority to impose fines on trusts that do not meet hygiene standards.

The Healthcare Commission's annual report on NHS performance, published in October, showed 114 out of all 391 NHS trusts in England had failed to meet one of the three core standards that make up the hygiene code.

Latest figures covering April to June show there were 836 cases of MRSA infections in England, a 36% drop on the same period last year.

There were 8,683 cases of hospital bug C. difficile recorded in patients aged 65 years plus - an 38% fall compared to the same 2007 period.

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