Howard launches plan to tackle 'MRSA 'superbug scandal'

Conservative leader Michael Howard has launched plans to grant hospital matrons new powers to help halt the spread of the MRSA 'superbug'.

Speaking at the launch of his party's health manifesto, Mr Howard, criticised the government's attempts to stop the spread of the infection. He called it "a scandal unique in Europe" and said that a Conservative government would give matrons the power to over-rule hospital bosses and shut down any dirty wards or operating theatres, where patients could be at risk of hospital-acquired diseases.

Mr Howard, whose mother-in-law died after catching an infection in hospital four years ago, said: "We need a government which trusts doctors and nurses to do their job - care for the ill and cure the sick. Look at the astonishing devotion to duty of our doctors and nurses. Their motives are the highest, their skills immense, their energy an inspiration. So is it too much to ask that we trust their judgement, their expertise and their experience?"

The Conservative leader blamed the MRSA problem on government targets, which, he claimed, prevented staff from closing wards that were known to be infected. Mr Howard declared: "Under a Conservative government, local professionals - doctors and nurses - will run our hospitals. Matrons - not bureaucrats - will decide which wards or operating theatres are closed because they have been infected with the 'super bug'."

Mr Howard also announced plans to make hospitals publish their infection levels, in order to keep the public better informed of the situation.

The Conservatives' plans were unveiled following a report which suggested that the MRSA epidemic was caused by 'clones' of the infection, which were more contagious than other strains. Dr Mark Enright, from the University of Bath, also suggested that better hospital hygiene might not be enough to prevent the spread of infection.

Figures published in July 2004 showed that MRSA infections in England had increased by 3.6% in the last year. Health Secretary John Reid announced plans last November to reduce MRSA infections by half by the year 2008. Government initiatives to tackle the epidemic included the installation of alcohol rubs and the launch of the Matron's Charter.

The Conservatives' health manifesto also included plans to end waiting lists, by increasing patient choice and increasing NHS spending by £34 billion per year, by encouraging the NHS and private sector to work together.

The party's health manifesto has been criticised by Liberal Democrats Shadow Health Secretary, Paul Burstow, who said: "The Tories have three kinds of health policy; uncosted, unfair and unbelievable. What the Tories really need to say is sorry. Sorry for making patients wait over 18 months for an operation. Sorry for driving dentists out of the NHS. Sorry for years of underfunding that has left the NHS still struggling with a legacy of staff shortages and deficits."

Commenting on Conservatives plans to offer patient choice, Mr Burstow, said: "It is choice for the few and long waits for the rest. Subsidising private treatment for those who can afford it will cost the NHS £1.2 billion before a single extra operation is ever performed."

He added: "If Labour's obsession with targets and lack of trust in front line staff is the problem, the Tories have nothing to offer but quack medicine."


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