Speaking ahead of an opposition debate on healthcare-acquired infection on Tuesday, Conservative leader David Cameron told a conference on the future of nursing: 'Without changing rooms and laundry facilities nurses often have to travel home in their uniforms - that's not good enough. We need a code of practice so that trusts are under an obligation to provide changing facilities for staff.
Shadow health minister Andrew Lansley urged the government to introduce a range of measures to improve infection control, including reduced rates of bed occupancy; increased isolation facilities and single rooms, rigorous screening, and the adoption of a code of practice on uniform.
He told MPs: 'We do want the code of practice to reflect the need for there to be changing, showering and washing facilities.
'At the moment half the nurses have changing facilities, six out of 10 do not have showers at work and six out of 10 cannot launder their uniforms at work.
Health secretary Patricia Hewitt said: 'If the opposition think that laundering uniforms is the central issue when it comes to controlling infection they are simply not listening to the experts.'
And she contrasted the Conservatives' plans to reduce central targets, with their desire to 'tell hospitals where to put their washing machines'.
The debate centred on the warning in a Department of Health memo leaked to HSJ (news pages 5-7, 11 January) that next year's MRSA target would be missed.
Other measures proposed in the opposition motion included the piloting of a 'search and destroy' strategy against the most virulent strains of MRSA and Clostridium difficile, along the lines of that practised in the Netherlands.
Mr Lansley also called on the government to report to the Commons every six months on the action it is taking to combat hospital-acquired infections.
And the shadow health secretary tackled the government on its failure to reduce bed occupancy, quoting Health Protection Agency evidence suggesting waiting-list targets were seen as a higher priority.