Wipe out the superbugs, Lansley orders hospitals
HOSPITALS are to be ordered to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to tackling superbugs in an attempt to slash the thousands of unnecessary deaths caused by the infections.
In his first speech as Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley said yesterday that all hospitals should move towards eradication of preventable deaths resulting from MRSA, C.diff and other superbugs.
One possibility is that all patients could be routinely tested for MRSA when they arrive for treatment.
Mr Lansley also confirmed plans to impose financial penalties on trusts that readmit patients sent home too soon.
Under Labour, emergency readmissions increased by 50 per cent, but critics fear Mr Lansley’s move could backfire, with hospitals keeping patients in for longer than necessary simply to avoid the risk of a penalty.
In a speech in East London, the Health Sec-
‘There is no tolerable level’
retary strongly criticised the former government for its seemingly endless string of superbug targets.
‘I have spent too long with too many people who have lost loved ones to healthcare associated infections not to be determined to act on this,’ he said. ‘There is no tolerable level of preventable infections. The only acceptable strategy is a zero-tolerance strategy.’ Mr Lansley singled out the Royal Berkshire Hospital and the South-East Coast NHS, both of which have committed themselves to a zero-tolerance approach. ‘If they can do it, so can others,’ he said.
Both organisations are introducing MRSA testing for emergency admissions as well as routine admissions. But the Department for Health was unable to say last night whether the scheme would be extended nationwide.
Around 3 per cent of people carry MRSA on their body without ill effects. Simple swab tests can pick up the infection, which can then be treated.
The Government has already ordered the weekly publication of MRSA and C.diff infection rates for every hospital in the country.
Officials are now looking at extending the scope of the data to include individual departments or even wards, and other bugs.
Hospital deaths from superbugs soared under Labour despite a string of initiatives to bring infection rates down.
In 2008 C.diff was mentioned as a contributory factor in 5,931 deaths, while MRSA was associated with 1,230 deaths.
Derek Butler, of campaign group MRSA Action UK, last night welcomed Mr Lansley’s comments, but said more detail was needed on how the policy would work.
He also warned that action to tackle superbugs would have to be extended beyond hospitals to GP surgeries and home care.
Mr Lansley also used yesterday’s speech to confirm plans to tackle emergency hospital readmissions.
Under a scheme to be introduced next year, hospitals will not receive funding for the emergency treatment of patients who have been discharged in the previous 30 days.
The move is designed to end the scandal of 1,500 NHS patients a day being returned to hospital after apparently being discharged too soon. Mr Lansley said Labour’s waiting time targets put pressure on hospitals to discharge patients too soon to free up beds.
He indicated that hospitals would receive additional funding for ensuring patients received appropriate treatment in the community following discharge.
But critics warned the move might result in ‘unforeseen consequences’.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, of the British Medical Association, said: ‘One risk is that we get a situation where decisions about discharge are based not on a judgment about what is best for the patient, but on an attempt to avoid additional costs. This could result in patients being kept in hospital longer than necessary.’
The King’s Fund think-tank said the scheme would work only if sufficient care in the community was made available.