Published: 15/07/2004, Volume II4, No. 5914 Page 6 7

Acute trusts will have to hit a new target to reduce rates of infection from MRSA (Methicillinresistant Staphy-lococcus aureus) from April next year in an initiative to tackle hospital-acquired infections announced by health secretary John Reid this week.

And cleanliness will be included in the national healthcare standards against which trusts will be assessed by the Healthcare Commission. Mr Reid also announced that strategic health authorities will have to draw up action plans to improve the record of the worst-performing trusts on cleanliness, within three weeks of the publication of this year's star ratings, due out next week. Those trusts would then be re-inspected by their patient environment action teams within six weeks and will be expected to have improved to reach the level of a 'pass' within the performance ratings.

Mr Reid also said that patient forums would be invited to carry out cleanliness inspections four times a year.

His announcement came three days before publication of a National Audit Office report that found trusts were not taking enough precautions to prevent patients from contracting MRSA.

The National Audit Office report Improving Patient Care by Reducing the Risk of HospitalAcquired Infection: a progress report, due to be published yesterday, said implementation of earlier recommendations made by the NAO and Commons public accounts committee in 2000, had not gone far enough.

Report director Karen Taylor said that although HAIs now had a higher profile, rates of patients contracting MRSA had undeniably risen: 'Action is still needed on hand hygiene, inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics, bed management - including a lack of single rooms and isolation facilities - and wider hospital hygiene.'

Ms Taylor said that heavy workloads were preventing staff from carrying out basic hygiene procedures.

British Association of Medical Managers chief executive Jenny Simpson said any new targets to reduce MRSA rates should be achievable, but that if they were to be hit a much more rigorous approach would be required.

She said: 'People are horrified by the infection rates. Screening of staff should be introduced and infection control taught at the start of nursing and medical training.'