Published: 01/09/2005, Volume II5, No. 5971 Page 21

In July, the NHS paid 'substantial' damages to Kitty Cope (right), an 87-year-old patient who contracted methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, Wales, after a hip replacement in 2001.

The case was a landmark, because there was an admission that the contraction was avoidable.

How can hospitals minimise similar claims? Prevention is better than cure. The government's legislative proposals - consultation closes on 23 September - attempt to tackle this with four key components:

a code of practice on the prevention and control of infections;

a duty on NHS bodies to follow the code, and one on the Healthcare Commission to assess compliance;

power for the commission to issue an improvement notice;

sanctions against those who breach the code.

Leading microbiologists have already made the following recommendations for hospitals:

appoint a multidisciplinary infection control team;

screen patients and staff;

treat MRSA patients and carriers in single-occupancy units, using separate, specialist staff;

avoid moving patients - patients of individual medical and surgical teams should be kept together;

restrict movement of staff;

implement laundry contracts in accordance with 1970 guidelines for separating soiled and clean laundry;

continue training in the principles of infection for all staff;

issue infection control guidelines;

control hand-washing and cleaning.

Christopher Malla is a partner at law firm Kennedys. The Action on Health Care-Associated Infections in England consultation document is available at www. dh. gov. uk/Consultations/fs/en.

c. malla@kennedys-law. com