Hospital-acquired Infections

– in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 15th July 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Cumberlege Baroness Cumberlege Conservative 11:00 am, 15th July 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they are making in reducing hospital-acquired infections.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, as the National Audit Office report on hospital-acquired infections, published yesterday, observes:

"There has been notable progress at trust level in putting the systems and processes in place and in strengthening infection control teams".

The report also cites examples of good practice in our hospitals. We are determined to bring all hospitals up to the standard of the best, and the wide range of work under way is set out in Towards Cleaner Hospitals and Lower Rates of Infection, published recently.

Photo of Baroness Cumberlege Baroness Cumberlege Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, I think that the Government have been extraordinarily complacent on this issue. Is it not true that very little progress has been made? In fact, in its report, the National Audit Office says that over the past three years the situation has got worse.

If we had a rail crash, killing 100 people, there would be a massive inquiry and heads would roll, yet 100 people a week die due to hospital-acquired infections. This is a terrible, microbiological and preventable disaster, and I am afraid that the wet mops and well meaning volunteers that the Government have suggested will not put it right.

Is the Minister aware that several British companies—there is no need to fly in experts from abroad; we have world leaders here—have the technology to zap MRSA and superbugs? Does he recall that, seven months ago in Winning Ways, the Government promised a rapid review to assess those companies but nothing has happened? In fact, the department now states that it hopes to start the evaluations before the end of this year. Is the Minister content that more than a year will have passed and another 5,000 people will have died unnecessarily, and that the Government will have ignored the microbiological solutions that are here on our doorstep? Will he take responsibility for initiating the rapid review now?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, I shall not trespass on the patience of the House by producing an answer quite as long as the question. Healthcare-acquired infections in the UK are at similar levels to those in Europe: 9 per cent in the UK; 7 per cent in the Netherlands; 8 per cent in Spain and Denmark and 6 to 10 per cent in France. So, we have a problem similar in scale to the rest of Europe. We have tackled that very energetically. I remind the noble Baroness that we know about the scale of MRSA in our hospitals only because this Government introduced a mandatory surveillance system, whereas the previous government relied on a voluntary system, which understated the problem.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

My Lords, I should like to ask a totally non-partisan question. Does the Minister have any figures which give a comparison either way with the private sector in the UK?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, the problem is that in the private sector there is a high percentage of elective surgery whereas in the NHS many of the patients who are being treated are much more vulnerable to healthcare-acquired infections and MRSA. Furthermore, the pressures on NHS beds are rather higher than the pressures on private sector beds.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Shadow Minister, Spokesperson On Older People

My Lords, the NAO report demonstrates quite clearly that we have the worst rates of MRSA in Europe. That is a matter of record. This is a matter of basic hygiene and it is clear that not enough progress has been made since the NAO report was produced. Does the Minister not accept any criticism of the Government at all on this matter? Furthermore, have the Government considered the adoption of British standards on this matter for every hospital and bringing in cleaning services to hospitals so that ward managers have proper control of cleaning?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear yesterday that the Government take this issue very seriously. It is this Government who came out with a strategy called Winning Ways in December last year, and, as I said in my Answer, it is this Government who came out with further plans in Towards Cleaner Hospitals and Lower Rates of Infection. However, we must also take account of the fact that in terms of healthcare-acquired infections, we are not out of line with the rest of Europe. We have a particular problem with MRSA, as do other countries. I would remind noble Lords that the United States, which has lower bed occupancy than this country, has similar levels of MRSA to the UK.

Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour

My Lords, is it not the case that the responsibility lies with the medical profession, with the nursing profession, and with the trusts which administer hospitals? It is a bit much to expect the Prime Minister himself to swab the wards.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, we know that the Prime Minister is a greatly talented person, but even he probably could not clean all the hospitals along with his day job. What my noble said about the importance of engaging all staff in this area is correct. Healthcare-acquired infection is a problem for everyone. Some trusts have met their waiting list targets and have a good record on MRSA rates, so it can be done. Somerset NHS Trust and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust are two examples. The Government are now fully engaged with staff on this issue. If people read the document Towards Cleaner Hospitals and Lower Rates of Infection, they will see the range of measures that we shall take in full co-operation with the medical and nursing professions to clean hospitals where that needs to be done.