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Hospitals face new crackdown over superbugs

They face 'spot checks' over the next year


Hospitals will be served with humiliating ‘improvement notices’ if they fail to tackle MRSA and Clostridium difficile (C diff), the health watchdog announced today.

Experts from the Healthcare Commission will carry out ‘spot checks’ on 120 NHS trusts in England over the next year.

The crackdown comes after figures showed C diff is still on the rise and those trusts that are not up to scratch could find themselves served with an ‘improvement notice’.

Health Protection Agency (HPA) statistics released in April identified 55,681 cases of the potentially fatal bug in patients aged 65 and over in England in 2006. That figure was up 8 per cent on the number of cases reported in 2005.

MRSA target

MRSA bloodstream infection figures revealed 1,542 cases in England between October and December 2006, down 7 per cent on the previous quarter.

Despite the fall, the government is widely expected to miss its target of halving rates of MRSA before April next year.

Up to two thirds of NHS acute trusts will be checked each year as part of the programme.

Their performance will be assessed against the government’s ‘hygiene code’, which sets out 11 compulsory duties to prevent and cope with hospital superbugs.

Hygiene code

If the watchdog finds the code has been breached, trusts will have to set out an action plan for rectifying problems within a set timeframe.

If they fail to assure the watchdog that appropriate steps have been taken, the Commission will publicly issue the trust with an ‘improvement notice’.

Failure to comply with such a notice could end up with the Health Secretary imposing special measures on a trust and personally overseeing an improvement programme.

Clostridium difficile

Anna Walker, Chief Executive of the Healthcare Commission, said: ‘Visits will be unannounced so that we can see the hospital in action. What we want to know is whether trusts are taking infection control seriously.’

She added: ‘The issue of healthcare-associated infection has rocketed up the agenda over the past few years.

‘We are not saying that nothing has improved. Rates of MRSA are starting to drop and that of Clostridium difficile are now rising less quickly.

‘And our recent survey of patients showed that people are reporting improvements in hand-hygiene and cleanliness of the hospital’s environment.’

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