Yesterday the Opposition held a debate in the Commons on the worrying presence of the killer bugs, MRSA and CD, in some of our hospitals. We did so because we are concerned by the number of deaths and serious illnesses contracted whilst in hospital. We did so in the spirit of wanting the government to cure the problem, not in??a sensationalised or partisan way.
How did Ministers respond? They spent much of their time trying to run down Conservative health policy. They told us there were cases of MRSA as long ago as 1992, implying that the present strains are the great great great..grandchildren of tory bugs, as if that absolved the present government from responsibilitiy. They told us dropping targets from the centre would make the problem worse, and they told us MRSA infections are now falling, whilst carefully sidestepping the question of??CD infections.
It was another disappointing performance. When a Minister faces such a serious problem as unacceptably high death rates in NHS hospitals we should expect some humility, a lot of analysis, and some positive recommendations of action to put matters right – not a crude political bash of their opponents. Ministers are paid high salaries, given ministerial cars and other perks so they can do a high level job. I don’t begrudge them that, but I do expect them to offer some value for the money.
Health Ministers could redeem themselves by answering the following questions, to show they are analysing the problem properly. They have access to the best advice the country can find to help them.
1. Why are many private hospitals free of killer bugs?
2. Why are military operating units in Iraq free of these infections?
3. What is the pattern of infection? Do healthy people on the staff or visitors contract these diseases, implying it can be passed on by touch of inhalation? Is it just patients who contract it? Is is usually a result of invasive surgery and a wound? Is it related to patients on antibiotic treatments which can lower immune system responses?
4. When we know the pattern of disease and the likely transmission mechanism, then we can set about prevention.
5. If it is usually the result of surgery we need to concentrate on the cleanliness regime in operating theatres. If it is the result of being an in patient we need to look at ward hygeine. If sufferers are usually on drugs we need to ask about the drug regime. If it affects the healthy we need to think about screening all poeple going into the hospital for the presence of the bug. Minsiters should give us a clearer view of its prevalence, its likely causes and the remedial action being taken by experts in the hospitals.
It is no use getting sidetracked by a debate about whether this is something Ministers should be involved in or not. Under current arrangements Ministers are ultimately responsbile, and Parliament has a duty tomdebate matters of grave concern about the NHS. If Ministers want this to be solved entirely at the local level then they can require and defend that proposition. If they want to offer guidance or set targets they can do so. What they can never do is duck out of answering MPs and public questions about why this is happening and what is being done about it. Yesterday revealed a worrying lack of understanding at the top.