In the fight to clean up our hospitals and prevent the incidence of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), an NHS watchdog in North Wales today (24 September 2013) announced that it is making spot inspections of three local hospitals to assess their compliance with the infection control framework. There has been a concerted effort to improve infection control procedures in the NHS and, in August 2013, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported a 20% fall in deaths from MRSA and Clostridium Difficile (C.diff.) in 2012 compared with the previous year – with MRSA down to a quarter of the level recorded in 2008.
Despite the ONS figures, a string of recent news stories suggests there are still serious failings in hospitals up and down the country. In the past few weeks, a hospital trust in Wales was forced to apologise after substandard infection control led to 96 patients contracting C. diff. from which seven patients died in the first five months of 2013. Elsewhere, an inspection by environmental health officers in Greater Manchester found poor food hygiene in the kitchens at Salford Royal. An outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at Basildon Hospital led to a fine for the hospital of £100,000, plus all the legal costs. There are other reports, of isolated incidents, rare infections, and major shortcomings.
Many different infections, including MRSA, C,diff., necrotising fasciitis and E.Coli can have devastating, even fatal, effects. For those patients who survive, multiple operations and amputation can often follow. Lives are turned upside down and the NHS bears the additional, often avoidable, cost of treating the infection, not to mention the economic impact in loss to the labour market and welfare costs.
Welcoming the news of spot inspections, Andrew Clayton, associate in Penningtons' clinical negligence team, says: "The key to combatting infections has to be vigilance throughout the NHS. These unannounced spot inspections will hopefully raise awareness and focus attention on the need for constant and thorough control regimes.
“Patients have to be reassured that hospitals are beating these infections. We receive numerous enquiries from patients who have contracted infections in hospital that all too often leave them debilitated for life. Unfortunately, some infections have become so prevalent that simply contracting the infection while in hospital does not in itself mean that there has been negligence.
“However, the failures often relate to the hospital’s inability to manage and control an infection once present. Recent efforts to tighten procedures mean that there are now strict requirements for infection control. Claims do succeed where it can be shown that there has been a real failure to follow these protocols or to monitor patients to identify and treat the infection acceptably. Where there is proper screening and adherence to stringent hygiene practices, infection rates are falling. Nevertheless, where poor standards are allowed to persist, HAIs remain stubborn and hospitals that fail to comply with proper controls put patients at huge and unacceptable risk. Hopefully, regular and widespread spot checks will identify these areas of weakness and reduce infection rates further still."