Making progress against MRSA and C. Diff at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital

I was very encouraged to see today’s Hampshire Chronicle report on how Winchester’s local hospital is making progress in the battle against MRSA.

Back in January, following an invitation, I accompanied the RHCH Medical Director, Dr Kevin Stewart, on one of the daily ward rounds by the executive team to inspect the hospital environment and see that action is taken on areas that need work.

We spent two hours visiting the hospital – mainly in Florence Portal House – seeing the improvements that are being made and discussing the infection control programme.

I’ve been particularly interested in infection control for several years.  Earlier in my career, I was involved in setting up public hygiene programmes in developing countries – teaching mothers and children basic handwashing habits can have a dramatic effect on infant health and mortality -  and have previously met with experts in infection control to learn more about it.

It was very encouraging to see how totally committed the hospital’s management team and staff are to improving infection control and creating a culture of cleanliness within the hospital – and how hard the staff are working to improve things.  It was clear that their top priority is to get the essentials right: regular hand-washing and hand-sanitising – reducing unnecessary use of antibiotics – making the hospital easy to clean and keeping it clean.  I was amazed how many hospitals didn’t mention handwashing or sinks in the recent Panorama survey the BBC published alongside their ‘How clean Is your hospital’ programme (although RHCH did).  Hand sanitiser (essentially alcohol with bit of glycerin and perfume thrown in) is good as far as it goes, but, if there is any dirt on the hands, it is not as good as soap and water.

We also talked about their programme of ‘prescribing’ the insertion of cannulae. It’s been getting great results and it’s very good to see RHCH taking a national lead on finding innovative ways to go beyond the basics.

Most of the time, the best thing that politicians can do about the NHS is stay out of the way of local health professionals. The one area where they can need more support is in ensuring they have enough funding to pay for the right number of beds for the number of patients they have and to modernise the wards to make it easier to isolate people who get an infection.

I know Mark Oaten and I are committed to doing everything we can to make sure that the hospital has the funding and support it needs to do this.  As recently reported on Panorama, if beds are used too intensively, it can increase the risk of infection – even if everything else is done right.  It’s essential that the hospital gets the support it needs to keep reducing bed occupancy rates and to continue driving down infection rates.

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