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Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware of today's severe weather conditions in East Sussex and Kent, which have made driving particularly treacherous. According to the BBC, the Army has been deployed to help the emergency services. Have you had any indication from the Ministry of Defence that a Minister will come to the House to make a statement on these unusual circumstances and what assistance the Army is giving to the emergency services?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Only in the narrowest sense is that a point of order for the Chair, but we would all be concerned and express sympathy for the people who are affected by these drastic weather conditions and those who seek to help them in the circumstances. Those on the Treasury Bench will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. As necessary, the matter may be dealt with or he and his colleagues might wish to pursue it at some later date on behalf of their constituents and local authorities, but the Chair cannot say more on the subject.

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Hospital-acquired Infections

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.56 pm

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I beg to move,

The terms of the motion will not be unfamiliar to many hon. Members here today, who will recognise the problem of hospital-acquired infections from constituency cases. The Opposition have raised this problem in their debating time on numerous occasions, and we shall make it a central plank of our campaigning up to the general election. It is right that we do so, and I make no apology for returning to the issue again, for the simple truth is that the problem is getting worse, not better.

Despite all the Government's initiatives, semi-initiatives, gimmicks, awareness campaigns and bluster, they have completely failed to get a grip on the situation, and the relentless advance and spread of hospital-acquired infections on their watch, leading to many thousands of avoidable deaths, is one of the great scandals of the past eight years.

We have had from this Government, and particularly from the Secretary of State for Health, prevarication, obfuscation, deflection and pure mystification, culminating last week in the Office for National Statistics reporting that 955 people died from specified methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in 2003 alone—an increase of 155, or 20 per cent., over the previous year, and well over double the rate that Labour started with in 1997. That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg, as it deals only with those deaths that are attributed directly to MRSA on the death certificate, let alone all the other hospital-acquired infections and the tens of thousands of patients who have contracted infections in hospital and survived.
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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): When the hon. Gentleman was doing his research, did he notice a parliamentary question that I tabled—funnily enough, to the Minister who is to reply to him today, when she was a Treasury Minister dealing with statistics—relating to the fact that death certificate reporting was misleading? A person would die of septicaemia or pneumonia and that would go on the death certificate, but it would not show MRSA. If I catch the Speaker's eye, I want to show that the reporting figures that the hon. Gentleman is referring to are false, because this Minister remedied the problem. I also want to refer to the failure of successive Ministers, Labour and Tory, to address that and related problems.

Tim Loughton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments. In my research I spotted not only his question but the fact that he was one of only two Labour Members, including members of the Government, who ever raised the subject of MRSA in debate during the five years between 1992 and 1997 under the previous Government. It was such a scandal, apparently—all the fault of the Conservatives, who started all this—that not a single Minister initiated a debate on the subject in five years. Only one future Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), tabled a written question on MRSA during the five years of the last Conservative Government. It was such a scandal that there was not a single debate and not a single oral question about it; just one written question.

The hon. Gentleman made a valid point about the problems of getting at the real facts and figures, caused by what is specified on death certificates. We know that doctors are increasingly reluctant to register deaths as MRSA-related because they fear that it might lead to legal action by patients' families.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) (Lab): I believe that we should be even-handed. If the hon. Gentleman is going to campaign on the issue of MRSA, good luck to him, but is it not reasonable to ask why the motion makes no mention of the last Government's decision in 1983 to introduce competitive tendering, which drove down cleanliness standards in hospitals across the country as well as the wages of decent, hard-working cleaners? Does he accept that that has a key bearing on the problems we are discussing?

Tim Loughton: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's intervention was typical of the deflection tactics usually employed by Ministers—but they do not usually have to go back more than 20 years to pin the problem on the Conservative party. There is hardly any record of infections of this kind in those days. I shall return to that subject later.

A conservative but realistic estimate by the National Audit Office puts the number of deaths from MRSA at more than 5,000 per annum. More than 40,000 people may have died of MRSA under the present Government; certainly more die of it each year than die in traffic accidents. Hospital-acquired infections are affecting more than 100,000 people each year in hospitals in England and Wales, the number being divided proportionally.
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It is a particularly British crisis. The number of incidences of MRSA infection in the United Kingdom, at 44 per cent. of staphylococcus aureus blood isolates resistant to methicillin, compares with just 1 per cent. in Denmark and The Netherlands and 19 per cent. in Germany.Much as the Secretary of State always likes to shift the blame away from the Government, we do not think that the accusing finger should be pointed at hard-working, dedicated NHS staff.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman's figures related to hospital-acquired infections. Has he figures for the incidence of MRSA in the British population compared with that in the populations of the countries that he cited? Is that not the relevant factor, and is that not why the incidence is so much higher in the British hospital population?

Tim Loughton: That is another bit of deflection. Now we are blaming people before they go into hospital. All those figures are covered in all the reports, and whatever measure the hon. Lady chooses, and however subjective we may be, I am afraid we do not come out of it well.

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