Hospital-acquired infections fell by 6% last year compared with 2003, latest figures have shown, as the government last month launched a crackdown on trusts that fail to keep wards clean.
Despite the improvement, public services union Unison has warned that England is “fast becoming the superbug capital of Europe”, after figures released by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee showed MRSA infection rates in England are 70 times greater than in Denmark and 40 times greater than in The Netherlands and Sweden.
The Department of Health is bringing in tougher regulations, including being able to dismiss hospital executives who fail to tackle the issue.
The wide-ranging proposals are being consulted upon until September, and will be monitored by the Healthcare Commission.
NHS bodies will be required to set up systems to minimise the risk of healthcare-associated infections and define who is in charge of infection control.
There will need to be a director of infection prevention and control, and a board-approved infection control programme and cleaning strategy.
Hospitals will also need to make written information available to staff, visitors and patients and all staff will have to be educated and trained about the issue.
Health minister Jane Kennedy said: “We want to make good infection control and hygiene practice a statutory duty for the NHS, with a detailed code of practice setting out the actions all healthcare organisations must implement.”
Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS was “making huge strides” to reduce such infections.
“Rates of MRSA are already low – there are just 0.17 cases of MRSA bloodstream infections acquired in hospital per 1,000 bed days – and latest statistics for April to September 2004 show a 6% reduction compared with the corresponding period in 2003,” she said.
Go to www.dh.gov.uk/Consultations/fs/en