Health Care-acquired Infections
Opposition Day — [3rd Allotted Day]
Norman Lamb (Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Health; North Norfolk, Liberal Democrat)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. A large number of beds are being cut across the country. That is directly related to deficits. It may well be appropriate, in certain circumstances, to reduce bed numbers. They can be reduced over time, as there is a shift towards day procedures. However, if numbers are reduced too fast, to meet the demands of deficits, we get problems. That is what the Public Accounts Committee found in 2005.
Last year, a Department of Health internal policy review was leaked to The Independent. It showed a direct link between bed occupancy and infection rates. Do the Government accept that link? I would be interested to hear the Minister say whether he accepts it. Further evidence of an inadequate response in this country, particularly to the growing problem of C. difficile, came from the national survey carried out by the Health Protection Agency. It confirmed that rigorous infection control measures—the rapid isolation of patients, effective hygiene and clean environments—were critical. It found that only 40 per cent. of trusts routinely isolate patients with C. difficile. That is a hopeless record across the country. That is not rubbishing the NHS; it is a statement of fact that ought to cause the Government real concern.
The survey also found that trusts have no agreed definition of an outbreak and are unclear to whom they should report an outbreak once it has been identified. Again, that is not acceptable. If the Government were prepared to accept that these things are not acceptable, we might start to make some progress. On the basis of those findings, it is hardly surprising that the survey also found that two thirds of trusts confirmed that the incidence of C. difficile had increased in the previous three years.
My question to the Secretary of State and to the Minister who will respond to the debate is: how have the Government responded to the findings of that national survey conducted by the Health Protection Agency? Given the highly disturbing evidence revealed in the leaked memorandum that C. difficile is now endemic in the health service and that many trusts are not taking it seriously—that is not us rubbishing the health service; that was said by the director of health protection—what steps are the Government taking to change that mindset? Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that contradictory targets may be making the situation worse?
Given just how many people are dying from those infections, I am sure that no matter which side of the political divide we are on, we all agree that the state of affairs is completely unacceptable, and that urgent action needs to be taken to improve performance across the health service.
On cleaning services, I should like to explore a report in the Health Service Journal, which says that the Minister will recommend that trusts consider bringing cleaning services back in-house. It was reported in the Health Service Journal that a report including that recommendation was due to be sent to the Prime Minister this month. Will the Minister confirm that?