Reid could bring in statutory hygiene code for hospitals

Published: 10/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5946 Page 8

The government is considering bringing in legislation that could see trusts fined if they fail to tackle healthcare-acquired infections.

Health secretary John Reid met representatives of the Healthcare Commission on Monday to discuss plans to draw up a statutory hygiene code for hospitals, as well as care homes and nursing homes.

The rules would apply to the public and independent sectors, and could lead to financial penalties for trusts that fail to meet standards.

However, the Department of Health said it would hand out extra cash to acute trusts if pilots of a new 'super-swab' MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) detection device are successful.

The swab - official name IDIMRSA - will be piloted from April at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital and one London hospital. 'If this works we will want to make sure all trusts have access to it, ' said Mr Reid.

The tests - which, according to manufacturer Stretton Scientific - 'detects MRSA directly from a single nasal swab specimen in less than two hours - cost almost£30 each.

The majority of patients attending hospital for surgery will need to be tested as a matter of routine procedure until rates start to drop to acceptable levels, according to chief medical officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson.

'If rates are contained then you can be selective about who you test.

The problem is that we haven't got rates down to the level it needs to be at to do selective swabbing.' Sir Liam and junior health minister Lord Warner were speaking as the DoH trumpeted an overall 6.3 per cent drop to 3,519 MRSA blood infections for the period March-September 2004 compared to the same period last year.

The DoH says the total number of infection reports in the latest period is the lowest since mandatory recording began in 2001, and credits NHS staff 'from cleaners to nurses' with reaching what Lord Warner described as a 'turning point' in efforts to combat infection.

As in previous reports, specialist trusts have the highest MRSA rates and are placed in a separate league table to discourage comparison with general acute trusts that deal with less susceptible patients.

The specialist Queen Victoria Hospital foundation trust had the highest MRSA rate at 0.38 per 1000 bed days, although it only had five reports of infection. Meanwhile, Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals trust ranked the worst general acute trust with 60 reports and a MRSA rate of 0.35 per 1000 bed days.