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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Hospital hygiene shake-up planned
Nurse washing hands
A bill to tighten hospital hygiene controls is to be introduced
Tighter hospital hygiene controls will be put forward to tackle MRSA rates during the next parliament.

The Health Improvement and Protection Bill - included in the Queen's Speech - is likely to include a hygiene code of practice for hospitals.

Bosses who fail to ensure the code is met could lose their jobs. The bill will also include legislation to introduce a public places smoking ban.

Bills covering mental health and NHS compensation will also be put forward.

However, the MRSA measures are unlikely to include prosecution for NHS managers who fail to tackle the superbug - as Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt hinted at at the weekend - when the bill is published.

Jobs

Instead, failing hospitals could have special teams brought in to sort out their cleaning, or bosses could lose their jobs.

The health bill will hand responsibility for checking the code is kept to the Healthcare Commission.

MRSA, which is linked to nearly 1,000 deaths a year, was one of the key battlegrounds of the election.

The bill will also include legislation to introduce a smoking ban in public places.

This [MRSA] is a serious issue, people are dying from it
Michael Summers, of the Patients Association

The Public Health White Paper, published in the autumn, set out a timetable to ensure all public places, except pubs which do not serve food, are smoke free by 2008.

Patients Association chairman Michael Summers said the MRSA measures were welcome.

"This is a serious issue, people are dying from it. It sounds like the government is planning to tighten controls and establish clearer lines of responsibility."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said: "Action on hospital hygiene is long overdue, but solutions must be evidence based and not simply designed to grab headlines."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the government was right to make cleaner hospitals a priority but questioned the way it was going about it, saying: "Labour's approach shows they haven't understood that it is central targets, government interference, imposed costs and bureaucracy which are at the heart of problems."

And Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents mangers, said sacking hospital bosses could prove difficult in practice.

She said with factors such as community MRSA it would be hard to prove what the cause of an infection was.

British Medical Association chairman James Johnson called on the government to introduce an outright smoking ban.

Detention

"Failure to make all workplaces smoke-free means that thousands of people will continue to be exposed to second-hand smoke."

The Queen, who was outlining a package of about 45 bills for the parliamentary session to November 2006, also said a Mental Health Bill would be introduced.

The Mental Health Bill was first put forward in 2002 and proposes allowing the compulsory detention of people with severe personality disorder even if they have not committed an offence.

But the bill has been dogged by claims it will make it too easy to lock people up who have committed an offence.

In March, a joint House of Commons and House of Lords Committee raised concerns people with only mild conditions could be detained.

The government is expected to reply to this in the next few months before publishing a bill.

Paul Farmer, chairman of the Mental Health Alliance, which represents 50 of the largest mental health groups, said: "I agree with much of what the committee said. The bill needs significant changes before it will improve the current laws."

A shake-up of the NHS compensation scheme is also set to be put forward in an NHS Redress Bill.

The plan is to introduce a scheme for quick redress of small compensation claims to avoid costly and lengthy litigation cases.


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