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Hospital-acquired Infections

4. Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): If he will make it his policy to require national health service trust hospitals to report rates of hospital-acquired infections on a common basis. [147331]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): Yes. Last September, the Government announced that from April 2001, it will be compulsory for all acute NHS trusts to report bloodstream infections caused by methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. That information will be published from 2002, and is the first stage in improving the reporting of hospital- acquired infection across the NHS. The next phase will monitor infections in patients undergoing hip and knee replacement surgery, and those who develop hospital- acquired infections after discharge.

Mr. Lilley: I am glad to hear that that is in train, because it certainly does not happen now in the hospitals surrounding my constituency. Is the Minister aware that the concerns that are growing most among the public are those about ward cleanliness and infections acquired on wards? Will he confirm that, in addition to making available information on infection rates in each hospital, Ministers will transfer to ward sisters the authority to hold to account those who clean their specific wards?

Mr. Hutton: I do not quite know how to tell the right hon. Gentleman this, but we have already announced precisely that policy. I wonder whether, while he is on the subject, he has ever reflected on the success of compulsory competitive tendering in improving the

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cleanliness of hospitals. I remind him that we have made £31 million available this year, and another £30 million will be made available next year, to improve cleanliness across the NHS. It is clear that good infection control policies and a proper emphasis on cleanliness should be at the heart of good hospital management. Under this Government, they will be.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Will my hon. Friend have a look at Adjournment debates held as far back as 1995 on methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, in which clear warnings were given about fatal cases? I do not remember the previous Government taking any action on the issue, and the present Government are to be congratulated on the work being done now. Will my right hon. Friend also investigate the action that has been taken in the Netherlands? There are fewer cases in that entire country than there are in individual hospitals in this country. The Netherlands' success is the result of years of the type of painstaking work that we are doing now. Ministers should accept congratulations on their work--but they should keep in mind the enormous number of avoidable deaths that are occurring throughout the health service.

Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and for bringing those matters to our attention. He is right to say that the issue affects every health care system in the world. If we are to find solutions to the issue in the United Kingdom, it is clearly necessary to examine successful practice in other countries, and we shall certainly do that. My hon. Friend will be aware that in January, the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), announced that another £200 million would be made available to the NHS to improve sterilisation and decontamination of facilities. That, too, will make a significant contribution to dealing with the problem.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): Under this Government, the number of deaths directly attributed to hospital-acquired infections has increased to a record 5,000. What possible excuse can be given in this day and age to a family who have lost a relative who went into hospital for a minor procedure but never came out? What review have the Government conducted of antibiotic policy, to stem the increase in antibiotic-resistant infection?

Mr. Hutton: The hon. Lady asks about the incidence of hospital-acquired infection. The simple answer is that we will be able to understand the situation only because we will now be collecting the proper data. I am bearing your strictures in mind, Mr. Speaker, but the Conservative party had 18 years to put the right data collection system in place, and it spectacularly failed to do so.

It is important to develop solutions to the problem, and we have implemented a series of actions that will help. Decisions will be informed by the best available evidence, and the data collection systems that we are putting in place will allow that to happen. That must be the basis on which all good public policy ultimately rests.

Hospital Waiting Lists

5. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): On how many occasions in the last three years he has changed the methodology for compiling hospital waiting lists; and if he will make a statement. [147333]

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The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): None.

Mr. Robertson: Why, therefore, did my constituent Mr. Clive Currie receive a letter from the local hospital dated 30 December last year telling him that his appointment six months later had to be cancelled because of an urgent requirement for appointments? Why did the same letter tell him that he would not be offered another appointment more than a month before the date for such an appointment fell due? Is that not a case of keeping people off the waiting list--and does it not coincide with the possible date of a general election?

Mr. Milburn: The problem with the hon. Gentleman's follow-up question is that he had not listened to my answer to his original question. I shall be glad to look into the complaint, although I am aware of the strictures placed on me by you, Mr. Speaker, and by Opposition Front-Bench Members, who keep telling me that the last thing I should be doing is interfering in individual patient complaints or in the running of the health service locally. However, the hon. Gentleman has made a representation to me, and I shall be happy to look into the matter.

My main point is that under this Government there have been no changes in the way in which we compile the waiting list statistics. The methods are exactly the same as those used under the previous Government. There are 120,000 fewer people on waiting lists now than when we came to power. More patients are being treated because this Government are investing more money.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): On the day that the number of people on waiting lists has risen--and with NHS managers seeking to respond to the incentives offered by his waiting list initiative, and to the targets that it imposes--will the Secretary of State say how many patients have been removed from waiting lists for non-clinical reasons?

Mr. Milburn: I should be happy to send the hon. Gentleman a note about that, if that would be helpful. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Amazingly enough, I do not have the figure in front of me.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his Front-Bench duties. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] As we can hear, he is deeply popular with Labour Members. I wonder what the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) has done to deserve him.

On waiting lists, the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) told the House on 8 March last year that the problem in the NHS was that

That was not his only pearl of wisdom. Two years ago, he told the House that the best treatment for the condition of teenage pregnancy was "education and self-discipline". He went on to ask the Minister with responsibility for public health whether the condition might not be better treated by adding "something to the water". That is the sort of pearl of wisdom that we can look forward to from the hon. Gentleman.

Angela Smith (Basildon): While my right hon. Friend is looking at waiting lists, will he also consider the

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reasons why some patients remain on those lists? I draw his attention to the tragic death of a young woman in my area, who died after waiting for two years for organs for a transplant operation. We have discovered that one of the reasons for such long waits is that many people do not carry donor cards, because the regulations were changed in 1994. The cards are no longer sent out automatically to GPs and surgeons. People have to apply for donor cards, and many do not do so. In the light of recent developments, will my right hon. Friend examine this matter urgently and reinstate the system in which donor cards are sent out automatically?

Mr. Milburn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As she knows, I shall be visiting a hospital in Basildon tomorrow.

On organ donation, I will gladly look into my hon. Friend's specific point about changes in the regulations in 1994. A huge number of people in the country--about 8 million--already carry organ donor cards. That is about 14 per cent. of the population. It is very important that they do so, and it is also important that we do all we can to encourage even more people to carry cards, because organ donation plays such an important part in advances in medical research and treatment. Before too long, I will be holding a meeting with patients organisations, doctors and others to see what we can do to ensure that the advantages of organ donation are made clear to the majority of the British people.

Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the difference between the Labour and Conservative parties is that we are seriously trying to deal with waiting lists, while their answer is to cut waiting lists drastically by forcing everyone to take out private health insurance?

Mr. Milburn: My hon. Friend is right--that is the position of those on the Conservative Front Bench, including the shadow Home Secretary, the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition. It is not the position of the Government--nor, indeed, that of the British Medical Association.

I draw my hon. Friend's attention to a report that the BMA has published today on how best to fund our health care system. Considering the sort of policy for private health insurance that the Conservatives advocate, it concludes that

That is absolutely right. The report goes on to say that such a policy

That, too, is right. This Government--this party--believe that clinical need, not ability to pay, is the driving force behind our health care system. That is precisely the point that we will be defending at the next election.

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