Mrsa

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 30 November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:45, 30 November 2005

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a survivor of MRSA.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to reports that tests for methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) may be falsely positive as a result of using a single laboratory.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House congratulates my noble friend on that.

Laboratories doing microbiological investigations should be accredited or registered for accreditation. Tests must be undertaken in accordance with approved standards and operating procedures. The results should be validated by process controls, internal quality control and participation in an external quality assurance program. It is disappointing that test results for MRSA produced by unsound methods are given wide publicity in the media. This causes unnecessary public concern and wastes NHS resources in countering them.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. Does he agree that the continued use of one particular laboratory, which has questionable qualifications and results, by the tabloid press shows more interest in criticising the NHS than in reporting the facts? Is he further concerned that this particular laboratory appears to derive most of its income from selling disinfectants to combat MRSA and thus might perhaps be seen to have a vested interest in achieving positive results?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend's concerns about the laboratory in question and the uncritical acceptance of its results by parts of the media. The main source of the misleading information in the media is Chemsol, which is run by a person who is not qualified in microbiology, is not a member of a recognised professional body and whose so-called laboratory does not meet UK accreditation standards. The methods used in this laboratory do not distinguish between harmless bacteria found on the skin and the potentially harmful MRSA.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

My Lords, if the laboratory does not reach accreditation standards, why do the Government not close it down?

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

Wait for it, my Lords; there is quite a good answer.

Dr Malyszewicz, the owner and operator of this so-called laboratory—and I am using the term advisedly—is not a member of a recognised professional body as a microbiologist. Nor is he a registered healthcare scientist or medical doctor. His laboratory is not accredited as a diagnostic laboratory. In those circumstances, he is not actually claiming to be any of the things for which we could take professional action against him.

Photo of Baroness Neuberger Baroness Neuberger Spokesperson in the Lords, Health

My Lords, given what the Minister has said, what else could be done to indicate to the public and the media more widely the concerns that we obviously share around the House about people passing themselves off as experts in microbiology when they are not?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, I would certainly commend to the House the work done by the BBC in its program "You and Yours" on Radio 4 on 14 November, which exposed the circumstances involved. We sent down our inspector of microbiology as long ago as July 2004 to inspect these facilities, which were described as a "garden shed" on the Radio 4 programme I mentioned. We have written to the media to explain the circumstances and given them copies of the inspector of microbiology's report. We expect some parts of the media to behave with a little more responsibility when we have given them this information.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

My Lords, is that not the core of the problem? The MRSA scandal is not the first example of a media scare, with people being genuinely worried and scared by a story that had virtually no substance to it. There have been many other examples of science being misreported in this way. It is not for this House or even the Minister but perhaps for the scientific bodies and, inadequate as it is, the Press Complaints Commission to start looking at how hopes are raised unrealistically and fears are raised unreasonably by press stories that show no scientific understanding. That also undermines public confidence in scientific thought and method.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend's remarks. We all accept that there are some serious issues around MRSA in this country, as there are throughout the whole of Europe, that have to be tackled; but they have to be tackled responsibly and not irresponsibly as has been the case in this area.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, would it not be a good idea to make MRSA a notifiable condition so that a qualified person would sign the form?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, consideration has been given to that although it is not the situation at the moment. However, we are the first government to introduce a mandatory surveillance reporting scheme on all healthcare-associated infections. We publish the results on MRSA as part of that. The scheme is being conducted by the Health Protection Agency.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Work & Pensions & Welfare Reform

My Lords, I understand that the laboratory which has been so rightly criticised by your Lordships today is not the only one involved in this report. The Minister talked about "validation". I assume that he meant validation not of laboratories but of tests. In the days of the Public Health Laboratory Service, difficult tests were almost invariably checked in other labs within the service. What is the position now?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, there is an arrangement for accreditation, and I can send noble Lords the full particulars. As I said in my Answer, they are based on quality assurance, quality controls and participation in an external quality assurance scheme. So people are not just self-regulating. They are applying in a similar way to that which the noble Lord mentioned.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Liberal Democrat

My Lords, has the Minister read Florence Nightingale's Notes on Nursing, which was written in 1860 before bacteria were even discovered? It contains an excellent blueprint for hospital hygiene and good nursing care. I wonder whether he would undertake to send it to all hospital managers for Christmas this year.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (NHS Delivery)

My Lords, I certainly would not want healthcare managers to be diverted from their current tasks in managing the NHS and achieving financial balance. However, I shall undertake to read the book if the noble Baroness will undertake to make a full study of all the measures that the Government have taken to improve hand hygiene and tackle MRSA.