Health trusts shy of infection control standard
By Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor
Last Updated: 2:11am BST 18/10/2007
The extent of the failure to protect patients against hospital superbugs is laid bare today in a damning report that reveals a quarter of health trusts do not meet infection control standards.
One quarter of bodies providing NHS care are failing to tackle infection control properly
The Healthcare Commission said 111 out of 394 bodies providing NHS care are failing to tackle infection control properly, including 44 of the 172 hospital trusts.
The failures are revealed in the commission's annual report on the state of the nation's health care services.
It comes just a week after Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospitals Trust was found to be responsible for a litany of failures that led to the biggest outbreak of the superbug Clostridium Difficile the NHS has seen. More than 1,000 patients contracted the bug, which killed 90 people and contributed to a further 255 deaths.
Today's report found that 111 trusts failed on one or more infection control measures. Sixteen of them told the commission they were compliant only for inspectors to overturn the assertion when they checked up on them.
Protection from infections, decontamination of instruments and cleanliness were among the standards most often breached, the report said.
This year trusts have been judged against tougher standards after a new hygiene code was brought in this time last year.
Anna Walker, the commission's chief executive, said: "We recognize that patients are genuinely frightened of catching a superbug in hospital. Although most patients receive safe and effective care in the NHS, the risk of suffering an infection is higher than it should be."
The Healthcare Commission rates all of England's health trusts — including primary care trusts, hospitals, ambulance trusts and mental health units — with an overall score for use of resources and quality of patient services.
These include dignity for patients, hitting Government targets, record keeping, updating skills, staff training and cleanliness.
As part of the annual health check, carried out for the second year in 2006/7, each trust is given a rating of excellent, good, fair or weak for both services and resources.
Just over half scored fair or weak on quality of services and 62 per cent were fair or weak on resources — a slight improvement on both counts from last year.
Four trusts scored weak on both for the second year running: Northern Devon Healthcare, Royal Cornwall Hospitals, Surrey and Sussex Healthcare and West Hertfordshire Hospitals.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson has warned these trusts to improve fast or face being taken over.
Out of 394 trusts in total only 19, all foundation trusts free from Whitehall control, scored excellent on both resources and quality of services and only the Royal Marsden managed it for the second year.
The report says there is concern that the largest proportion of trusts fall into the "fair" category meaning they provide adequate services but there is significant room for improvement.
the chief executive of the King's Fund, Niall Dickson, said: "'The health check also reveals poor standards of hygiene in too many hospitals and the commission is right that this is a priority for patients and should be more of a priority in many NHS trusts."
Gill Morgan, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents trusts said doctors and nurses need more autonomy.
She said: "Progress has been made in tackling health care associated infections and MSRA rates have decreased. However, we must work harder to eliminate health care associated infections. The hygiene code is helping boards take control of the problem."
David Stout, the director of the Primary Care Trust Network said trusts that had not faced reorganisations last year had performed better, proving restructuring should not be a 'knee-jerk' reaction.
But Mr Johnson said: "This independent verdict on the NHS shows clear improvement, with more trusts getting an excellent rating, more trusts improving on last year's performance and fewer in the lowest category.
"Safety is my top priority. That means everyone in the NHS doing much more to get the basics right – washing hands, cleaner hospitals, more effective infection prevention."
Trusts that scored weak for both resources and quality of services:
• Cumbria Primary Care Trust (PCT)
• Devon PCT
• E&N Herts PCT
• Gt Western Ambulance Trust (AT)
• Leics County & Rutland PCT
• Luton Teaching PCT
• Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells Trust
• Mid Essex PCT
• N Devon Healthcare Trust*
• Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust*
• Royal United Hospitals Bath Trust
• Scarborough & NE Yorks Healthcare Trust
• Sheffield PCT
• Surrey & Sussex Healthcare Trust*
• W Herts Hospitals Trust*
• W Herts PCT
• Wilts PCT
• Worcs Acute Hospitals Trust
• Yorks AT
* Weak on both measures for the second year running