Last update 14th. July 2004


New action for cleaner, safer hospitals

HEALTH Secretary John Reid today published plans to cut the level of hospital-acquired infections like MRSA and improve general standards of hygiene.

He published a document, Towards Cleaner Hospitals and Lower Rates of Infection, which makes clear how the NHS and Department of Health will take forward action in these areas

John Reid said:

'Cleanliness remains a major patient concern and MRSA is a growing problem. My approach is to be open about this.

'Cleanliness contributes to controlling infection, but preventing infections requires more than just cleanliness.

He added:

'I will ensure every hospital publishes and displays its infection rates and trends, since patients have the right to know. Patients will have a choice of hospitals by the end of next year and this could become a factor in their decision.

'In hospital I want NHS patients to demand the highest standards of hygiene and -since human contact is a major way infection spreads in hospital - to feel happy to ask staff if they've washed their hands.

'I will ask local patients forums' to conduct cleanliness inspections four times a year, using a checklist drawn up by infection control nurses and the results will be made public.

'As bedside phones are introduced I want them to have a pre-programmed housekeeping button so patients and visitors can be put through to the hospitals cleaning service straight away.

'At the same time I will give matrons and nurses at ward level the power to ensure high standards are maintained. That means putting matrons in charge of cleaners. And it means putting alcohol rubs at all staff patient contact points.

'Cleanliness is as important to the public as waiting times. Putting it at the heart of the NHS inspection regime and introducing a new target to cut MRSA, will ensure that the whole NHS gives this issue the same high priority that the public does.

'Because MRSA rates vary from hospital to hospital I want the whole NHS to learn from the best at home and abroad. So I will fly in experts from countries with low MRSA to advise the NHS on improving infection control.

But improved cleanliness alone will not alone tackle the problem of superbugs like MRSA. The problem with MRSA is its resistance to drugs that worked against it in the past. So I will host a MRSA science summit to learn how to best tackle ever-mutating infection.'

The moves announced today fall into six areas:

  1. Being open with the public about this issue of concern.
  2. • Public display of each hospital Trust's infection rates and trends, and their inclusion in published reports at PALs offices and internet

  3. Measures to involve patients in monitoring the situation in their local hospitals, including:
  4. • Cleanliness inspections by each Trust's Patients' Forum four times a year, based on what infection control nurses say to look for, with the results made public

    • Speed dial buttons for housekeeping on new patient bedside phones.

  5. Measures to give staff at ward level the tools and encouragement to put cleanliness and infection control a top priority, such as:
  6. • Plans for a new charter for hospital matrons, setting out what works -like cleaned beds in children's wards indicated by a teddy- so busy nursing staff know a bed has been cleaned and prepared for a new patient.

    • New lines of accountability for matrons to be in charge of cleaning staff and ensuring patients' views on these issues are listened to

    • A detailed checklist for infection control nurses to use when inspecting wards and other areas

    • A 'Think Clean Day' in which every hospital in England conducts a detailed inspection of its own facilities and takes immediate action to remedy any shortcomings

    • National rollout of the National Patient Safety Agency's clean your hands campaign, which has been shown to improve staff hand hygiene, with alcohol rubs at every staff patient contact point.

  7. Moves to ensure consistent national standards and monitoring of progress:
  8. • A new target of reducing MRSA rates year on year for every acute Trust

    • New national healthcare standards, in force from next April, which will include cleanliness and infection control at their heart

    • A detailed national review of infection control and cleanliness by the Healthcare Commission, which it will be asked to undertake during this year

    • Trusts judged to be performing poorly on cleanliness will be instructed to provide an action plan for improvement within three weeks, followed up by a re-inspection within six weeks

    • New model cleaning contract for hospitals, ensuring contracts put quality above cost

  9. Measures to ensure lessons are learnt from the best at home and abroad
  10. • Experts from countries with low MRSA rates be invited to advise the NHS on improving infection control

    • They, together with professionals from the cleanest hospitals in the NHS, will also help us review our Standards of Cleanliness

    • Research on how many single rooms are needed in hospitals to minimise infections, and a new drive to increase the proportion of single rooms in new hospitals

  11. Moves to ensure science makes the maximum contribution to tackling this problem: New research into testing cleanliness levels
  12. • A 'science summit' of leading experts to advise us on the best avenues for new research into hospital infections.