Inspection Blitz On NHS Hygiene

The NHS in England is facing a blitz on hygiene standards as a watchdog uses new powers to crackdown on infections.

The Healthcare Commission is to go into 120 NHS trusts unannounced in the next year to check cleanliness standards and infection control procedures.

The watchdog has new powers under the Health Act 2006 to order trusts to improve their standards.

It comes as the NHS struggles to meet the government’s target of halving MRSA “superbug rates” between 2004 and 2008.

Cases of MRSA are falling, but Clostridium difficile is becoming more common with 55,681 cases among the over-65s in 2006 – up 8% on the year before.

The watchdog, which will be mainly focusing on hospitals but will also take in some mental health institutions, will examine whether the right management structures and infection control teams are in place.

Inspectors will also be checking that patients with infection are isolated properly and hand-washing is common, as laid out in the government’s hygiene code.

Failure to meet any of the standards will require the trust to produce an action plan to address the problems.

And if this does not resolve the issue, the Healthcare Commission can serve an “improvement notice” which can lead to direct intervention from the health secretary.

It is envisaged about two-thirds of hospital trusts will face an inspection with the watchdog using its own data to target the high-risk trusts.

Anna Walker, chief executive of the Healthcare Commission, said: “Although the commission seeks to reduce the overall number of inspections it makes, this is one area where we must be out there actively checking.”

Health Minister Lord Hunt said: “These rigorous checks will ensure that trusts adhere to the code and will help give patients the assurance that everything possible is being done to keep infections to a minimum.”

But shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said the government should have acted years ago.

“It is odd that it has taken 10 years to introduce these unannounced checks, especially as it’s been a period in which the number of deaths from MRSA has quadrupled.”