Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 4th December 2008.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 12:00 pm, 4th December 2008

To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland. (S3F-1242)

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Two weeks ago, I challenged Nicola Sturgeon on the deeply disturbing issue of hospital-acquired infections. A lot of the recent discussion has understandably centred on one incident in one hospital, but our focus has to be wider and we must be proactive, not merely reactive.

It was clear from what Miss Sturgeon said about monitoring such infections that the Scottish Government is still taking a health board-by-health board, hospital-by-hospital approach and that it aspires to extend that to real-time tracking by clinical specialty. To cut through the technical jargon, that is not good enough. We need to move to ward-by-ward, bed-by-bed real-time tracking if we want to know whether another Vale of Leven crisis threatens at any point in any day in any hospital.

We can do more. An electronic bed-management system that is perfectly capable of being extended to monitor bed and ward infections has already been successfully piloted in Aberdeen royal infirmary. Does the First Minister agree that, given what we know is out there, his Government's response to date has been tardy and inadequate? Will he now back the Scottish Conservatives' call for a bed-by-bed infection tracking pilot?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I do not agree that the Government's response has been tardy and inadequate. Annabel Goldie should acknowledge the substantial actions that have been taken to tackle hospital-acquired infections, not least of which are the trebling of available funding compared with that under the previous Administration; the setting of national targets to reduce Clostridium difficile cases; the provision of extra funding for prescribing policies, which are a key factor in tackling that dreadful condition; the performance in raising hygiene; the toughening up of cleaning standards; and, which is important, the empowering of senior charge nurses, the establishment of an independent inspectorate and the banning of the privatisation of cleaning contracts for the future. That is a substantial category of action.

Annabel Goldie made a specific point about Aberdeen royal infirmary. I am aware of the pilot exercise there. Obviously, we support that new technology in the national health service and we are perfectly happy to consider anything that will improve performance. More efficient bed management and the tracking of patient movements mean that NHS staff can manage their patients more effectively and efficiently. If the approach that has been described is used to its full potential, it could offer a valuable addition to local surveillance. The tracking system has benefits. When the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing visits NHS Grampian next week, she will see the pilot model at first hand, consider the planned extension to other facilities in the NHS Grampian area, and find out whether it would be appropriate to roll out the scheme throughout the national health service.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

No one denies that these are financially challenging times, not least for the health service. That is why we must spend our NHS resources on clinical imperatives, not on political targets. The technology that I mentioned can save lives. I have a detailed briefing on it, which I am happy to send to the First Minister today.

Does the First Minister recognise the urgency and necessity of addressing the problem now? We have the means to do so, but we now need the political will. It is no longer a question of if; it is a question of when. Will the First Minister undertake to make a statement in the Parliament as soon as possible on when and where a bed-by-bed infection-tracking pilot will start?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing will visit Aberdeen to see the pilot scheme on Monday, and she will certainly report back to Parliament on what is found. The pilot offers a promising addition to the range of measures that are being taken to tackle hospital-acquired infections. At this stage, we must consider and evaluate the pilot and its cost effectiveness, but the fact that the cabinet secretary is going to see the scheme so early and that we are interested in its being rolled out over other facilities in NHS Grampian indicates that we see merit in its results thus far and that we are engaged and interested in finding out whether it can help us across the whole health service.