Prime Minister Gordon Brown has vowed to fight the spread of hospital-acquired infections such as methicillin-resistant Streptococcus aureus and Clostridium difficile with a deep clean of all hospitals in the UK.

Brown has pledged to return hospitals to the state of cleanliness they were in at the time of their opening and, in an article in the News of the World, explained that day-to-day cleaning was insufficient to solve the problems. “We know that, over time, ingrained cleanliness problems build up, especially in hard-to-reach places like ceilings and ventilation ducts, which cannot be dealt with by day-to-day cleaning. So over the next year, for the first time, every hospital will receive a deep clean designed to return our hospitals to the state they were in when they were built brand new,” he said.

But sceptics of the move were quick to point out its flaws. “This is an irritatingly populist move designed to clean up at the party conference and has nothing to do with cleaning hospitals,” Roy Lilley, former Health Authority vice chair and NHS commentator, as well as independent health policy analyst, writer and broadcaster, told PharmaTimes UK News.

“It would be churlish to deny that deep-cleaning has no value but if you don’t have hand washing and all the other things in place you can scrub a ward on Monday, use it on Tuesday and it will be infected by Wednesday. Brown needs to listen to real doctors – not spin doctors,” he added.

New cleanliness regulator

Brown’s announcement was quickly followed by Health Secretary Alan Johnson’s promise crack down on cleanliness and infections. He announced the emergence of a new hospital regulator with powers to impose fines and close down entire wards in hospitals that do not meet hygiene requirements. “This will result in a more hygienic, brighter, cleaner environment for hospital users and make it easier to maintain a clean hospital in the future,” Johnson said.

"Hospital infections like MRSA undermine confidence in the NHS,” he explained. “We will equip the new healthcare regulator with tough powers, backed by fines, to inspect, investigate and intervene where hospitals are failing to meet hygiene standards. The new regulator will have power to impose fines and additional powers to inspect and issue warnings, as well as halting new admissions or even cancelling a provider's registration entirely.”

According to the Department of Health, the Johnson’s announcement comes in the wake of a stream of measures to tackle healthcare associated infections, such as: £50 million of extra funding to Strategic Health Authority Directors of Nursing and doubling the size of improvement teams; new guidance on clothing; and new clinical guidance to increase the use of isolation for those patients who are infected with MRSA or C. difficile; and a new legal requirement for all chief executives to report all such infections to the Health Protection Agency, backed by fines for non-compliance.

The proposals to create the new regulator will be introduced in the Health & Social Care Bill in the next parliamentary session and Trusts will be expected to begin their deep cleaning programmes as soon as possible, the DH said.

Figures released by the Health Protection Agency in July showed that there were 1,444 reports of MRSA between January and March this year, marking a 6.4% decrease on the previous quarter, but cases of C. difficile infection in patients aged 65 years and above leapt 22% during the period to 15,592.