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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 10:26 GMT
Hospital infection call dismissed
Hand washing
The spread of the virus is not related to cleanliness
Scotland's health minister has dismissed calls to give the Health and Safety Executive more powers to investigate infections picked up in hospitals.

The Scottish National Party wants to give the body the power to prosecute employers over their standards of cleanliness.

But Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm told BBC Scotland that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) already had the power to go into hospitals.

And he told BBC Scotland: "I am sure that they agree that they are not the body that has the expertise in infection control.

Malcolm Chisholm
Malcolm Chisholm is receiving a report
"The appropriate body is the Clinical Standards Board for Scotland.

"There will be a report from them on infection control performance by March this year and I have asked the chief executive to accelerate the external checks that will follow from that."

Mr Chisholm said he would be receiving another report on Tuesday into a viral infection at the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow.

A total of 254 people have now been hit by the "winter vomiting" bug, which causes sickness and diarrhoea.

The Victoria Infirmary is expected to remain closed for at least two more days, although there is growing hope that the outbreak may have passed its peak.

Appointments cancelled

The bug has also had a serious knock-on effect elsewhere in the city.

Emergency cases are being diverted to the Southern General and some 200 patients who were due to be admitted to the two hospitals have had their appointments cancelled.

The South Glasgow University Hospitals NHS Trust has pledged to treat those who have suffered a cancellation as a priority.

The bug has also affected patients and staff at three other hospitals and struck down more than 100 pupils at Forthill Primary School in Dundee.

BBC Scotland health correspondent Eleanor Bradford said cleanliness was not an issue when it came to spreading the airborne infection.

We need to take a much tougher approach and that is why I think the Health and Safety Executive should have a remit in hospitals

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP health spokeswoman
"When someone is ill, everyone in the room has an 80 or 90% chance of picking up the virus," she explained.

Mr Chisholm said that all the action which could be taken had been carried out at the Victoria Infirmary.

He said he would now be devoting a "great deal of energy" over the coming weeks to looking at the more general issue of hospital acquired infections.

SNP health spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon stressed that her party's call to give the HSE more powers was not simply a reaction to the problems at the Victoria Infirmary.

"It is more a response to the fact that every year more people are dying as a result of hospital acquired infections than die on our roads," she told BBC Scotland.

"That is a stark statistic and the problem is getting worse rather than better.

Victoria Hospital sign
Wards were closed at the Victoria Infirmary
"We need to take a much tougher approach and that is why I think the Health and Safety Executive should have a remit in hospitals to inspect and maintain standards - and where necessary to have effective sanction against trusts that are failing to met basic hygiene standards."

But Mr Chisholm said: "The HSE can go in, but it's the Clinical Standards Board for Scotland and Audit Scotland who have the key role in the weeks to come.

"I'm in close touch with them and I am determined that they will do that work thoroughly, and as quickly as is practicable."

Mr Chisholm said an additional 30 infection control nurses were being trained - and more would follow.

Audit Scotland will also be inspecting hospitals against national standards over the coming months.

Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm
"I am extremely concerned about clean hospitals"
SNP health spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon
"I have been raising the issue of hospital acquired infections for some time now"
See also:

22 Jan 02 | Scotland
Hospital virus' impact spreads
21 Jan 02 | Scotland
Doctors 'cut corners' over hygiene
21 Jan 02 | Health
Controlling hospital infection
21 Jan 02 | Scotland
Virus-hit school may stay shut
18 Jan 02 | Scotland
Action threat over bug death
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