The vice-president of the Patients Association, Sir Richard Branson, has called for hospital staff to be screened for the superbug MRSA.
Sir Richard said the NHS could learn from the airline industry
Professor Mark Enright, an MRSA expert, said the policy could make sense, but would be expensive to implement.
NHS experts have argued that much progress has been made in tackling the problem.
BBC News website readers have been writing in about their experiences. Here is a selection of comments from patients and hospital staff.
PATIENTS AROUND THE UK
My mother died in 2005 after having her leg amputated because of MRSA in the knee joint that had been replaced. I feel that she could have been treated more efficiently, and feel that if she hadn't been left to "get on with it" she may have had a better chance of survival. The aftermath of death is horrific enough but in these circumstances it seems even harder to bear as my family feel cheated. I would also like to point out that MRSA is listed on the death certificate as a cause of death which doesn't usually happen. I was terrified of the hospital for this reason when I was admitted earlier this year and spent my stay worrying about the chances of contracting MRSA.
At my local hospital the reception staff won't even speak to you until you've used the antiseptic handwash located on every desk. Visitors must use it before entering a ward. Prospective patients are screened for MRSA and all patients have to wash with clynol for four days prior to admission. MRSA cases are few. Screen staff and treat anyone carrying MRSA. Yes it's expensive, but surely cheaper than treating infected patients. And implement a strict cleaning policy to prevent further infections.
My father-in-law has just had major brain surgery. He has spent time in two different hospitals and the difference in the standard of hygiene between the two is massive. He has now been diagnosed as having MRSA and is in isolation. In the last week or so we have not been challenged once with respect to hygiene. We use the hand wash but the dispenser by the entrance to the ward has been empty for the best part of a week. They don't care about the patients.
When my mother was in hospital recently other patients were allowed visits from their pet dogs. These were allowed to jump up on the bed to 'comfort' the patient. I wonder how many used the antiseptic hand wash before entering the wards! This is apparently a general policy. If they're serious about stopping the spread of disease this surely can't be right?
My sister and I had a meeting with our mother's hospital doctor. We had arrived early and were sitting in an area of the ward, and what we saw really astonished and disappointed us. Despite all the notices on the walls about using gel on the hands no one used the gel outside the ward. We could tell that they were staff because of their uniform or wearing an identity card and the fact that all, without exception, used the key pad to release the door catch. It is little wonder that patients get infected with any number of bugs such as MRSA of which I knew at least three cases when we visited that day. Allan Carter
Each time I visit a hospital I'm staggered by lax visiting rules. On some visits I have seen beds surrounded by whole families including babies, some obviously with colds and many wearing dirty 'work' clothes. The hand cleaning facilities outside the wards are rarely used and certainly not monitored, why not at least put them beside the nursing station so there is some pressure? Restrict visitors to two at a time, masks supplied for cold sufferers and cheap overalls for those with dirty clothes.
HOSPITAL STAFF AROUND THE UK
As a community nurse (when MRSA first raised its ugly head) all staff were tested whenever we had to treat any patient known to have MRSA - such patients were also supposed to be treated last on the days list. Unfortunately economics came into the picture and the testing was abandoned as staff found to be carriers were not allowed to work until cleared and the same excuse was used as far as where in the day's list a patient was treated - it was uneconomic to return to an area etc.
I trained as a nurse in the 1970s when the Ward Sister ruled. Wards had their own domestic staff who took a pride in their work and woe betide them if they didn't! When ward cleaning was contracted out, nurses lost the authority to have any influence in whether their wards were clean or not. Over the last couple of years things have improved because ward housekeepers have been introduced. The public also need to be aware that superbugs don't originate in hospitals - they are brought in.
I am a nurse and on our unit all our staff have been screened at least once a year for the past seven years. That included absolutely all staff that could possibly come in contact with the patients. In that period of time only one nurse was diagnosed with MRSA. However we are not allowed to screen visitors and patient's families, but we have been informed by some that they have been diagnosed as MRSA positive.
As an intensive care consultant I think Sir Richard's analogy to the airline industry is a fair one with one major exception. Aircraft are not allowed to take off if they have less than the mandatory number of crew on board. NHS wards are open every day with less than the safe number of staff. Our nine-bedded ICU should have ten nurses on duty all the time; this has not happened for years. We run with eight or nine nurses, so these nurses have to care for two patients thus increasing the risk of cross infection. Minimum safe levels of nursing staff should be quantified and legally enforced.
I am a nurse and everyone on my unit was screened for MRSA a few years ago when we had three patients with three different strains of MRSA (demonstrating that the infection was NOT being passed from patient to patient by staff) and NO ONE was a carrier. This money could be better spent elsewhere. Visitors and patients, not just staff, need to be educated. Richard Branson should stick to what he knows. Anon
I work part time as a house keeper in a local hospital. I am amazed at the behaviour of visitors. Rarely uses dispensers on entrance to ward. Sitting on patients beds and putting outdoor clothes and handbags etc on the beds. Also, heaven knows what is carried in on the bottom of bags. Everyone is to quick to blame hospital staff for poor infection control. Educate the entire population before blaming the professionals.