Published: 16/09/2004, Volume II4, No. 5923 Page 7

The Department of Health has failed in the last four years to roll out a hardline policy on cleanliness in hospitals, the Commons public accounts committee heard last week.

NHS chief executive Sir Nigel Crisp and chief medical officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson were grilled on why many of the committee's recommendations for combating hospitalacquired infections in 2000 had not been implemented.

Committee chair Edward Leigh said: 'Many things we deal with as a committee are quite complicated. . . why can't you instil in your staff this culture of absolute cleanliness? Florence Nightingale worked it out in the Crimean War.'

Labour's Gerry Steinberg said he could not understand why it had taken so long for the government to introduce alcohol gel at all staff-patient contact points when 'we sat here four years ago and said people were dying because doctors, nurses and infection control staff were not cleaning their hands'.

He added: 'Quite frankly you [Sir Nigel] and Sir Liam do not seem to be taking this problem very seriously at all. . . which is a disgrace.As far as I am concerned I think It is one of the worst reports we have ever seen.'

Tory Richard Bacon said the government's policy on HAIs reminded him of the British Rail slogan: 'We are getting there.'

The committee criticised the NHS for limited progress in implementing a national mandatory surveillance programme, and of not taking the issue as seriously as other European countries, where rates are lower.

But Sir Nigel argued that there had been 'tangible progress in implementing the steps needed to reduce infection'.He expected performance on HAIs to improve now as rapidly as performance on waiting times had over the past four years.