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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 May, 2005, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
MRSA remains on political agenda
Wound affected by MRSA
Many people carry the MRSA bug on their skin
Health is one of the main issues being debated by all the main parties in the general election.

For voters in the South West, one the biggest areas for concern is MRSA and other hospital-acquired infections.

The latest government figures show a fall nationally, but rates of MRSA in Devon and Cornwall have risen.

Each case of MRSA has a human story and potential vote behind it, but the main parties do not agree whether it should be a political issue.

You're dealing with an invisible enemy as opposed to the dust and the dirt you can see if somewhere isn't clean
Dr Mike Oliver, North Devon District Hospital

Fergus Millar from Plymouth has had MRSA three times. In December 2004 Mr Millar, 77, had a heart attack and went to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, where he contracted the superbug for a third time.

Mr Millar told BBC News he does not blame the government for his MRSA. But he says it is a political issue which has to be dealt with nationally and believes going back to old-style matrons would be a positive step.

From April to September 2003 there were 133 cases of MRSA in the South West. For the same period in 2004, the figure rose to 154.

Dr Mike Oliver, the medical director or North Devon District Hospital believes the problem of MRSA, which many people carry on their skin, is more difficult because it cannot be seen.

He said: "You're dealing with an invisible enemy as opposed to the dust and the dirt you can see if somewhere isn't clean."

Cleaning regime

Most people agree the problem must be dealt with, but should MRSA be a party political issue?

Andrew Lansley, a Conservative health spokesman, says it should.

He said: "It's right it should be part of the discussion because this is our opportunity to say what is important, what matters and what needs to be done.

"It wouldn't be a party political issue at the general election if the government had done what they needed to do."

But Labour spokesman John Hutton disagrees and says progress against the superbug is being made.

"The NHS is working really hard to reduce the rates of these superbug infections", he said.

"This year we've seen the first fall in so-called MRSA infections in NHS hospitals. Now that's a sign on progress and the NHS is getting on top of this problem."

The Liberal Democrats say blame for the current situation goes back many years.

Health spokesman Paul Moynagh said: "Cleaning services in hospitals were privatised under the Tory government in the 1980s and so cleaners stopped being under the direction of medical staff and nursing staff in particular."

Whatever the outcome of the election, MRSA and hospital cleanliness is likely to continue to be high on the political agenda.





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