After announcing dribs and drabs of new measures designed to tighten infection control in hospitals over recent months, the government has now laid out a full battle plan that it hopes will substantially reign in the spread of diseases such as MRSA.

Although the latest figures indicate that the number of cases of MRSA and Clostridium difficle are slowly starting to fall, hospital-acquired infections continue to kill thousands of patients each year, and the hygiene standard of many hospitals is simply not up to scratch.

The government’s multi-pronged approach to fighting the spread of infection ranges from implementing a deep clean of hospitals to return them into their original state, as reported last year, to an upcoming nationwide campaign to clamp down on inappropriate prescription of antibiotics and stress the dangers of antibiotic resistance through overuse.

Under the new strategy, crowned Clean, Safe Care, extra funding of £270 million by 2010 has been promised to help drive forward the initiatives, including £45 million for the provision of new specialist staff, so that every hospital trust in England can recruit two infection control nurses, two isolation nurses and an antimicrobial pharmacist, the Department of Health said.

Other measures include: a range of programmes to speed up the development and uptake of new technologies; guidance on HR procedures, including the importance of induction and training on infection prevention and control for staff; and a cleaning summit held by the NHS Chief Executive, which will emphasise the importance of hospital cleaners as part of the solution to infections and cleanliness.

Furthermore, primary care trusts will now be able to fine those trusts failing to meet local targets on C. difficile, which is over and above fines that the newly-established watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, can slam on those trusts breaching the hygiene code.

Restoring confidence
It is hoped that the new initiatives announced yesterday will, together those announced previously, such as: screening for all elective patients by March 2009 and all emergency patients as soon as possible; annual infection control by the Healthcare Commission; and new bare below the elbows dress code, help to significantly cut down on the rates of infection and re-instore public confidence in the cleanliness of hospitals.

“We know that patients do not want to receive care in a dirty hospital,” said Chief Nursing Officer Christine Beasley. "Preventing infections requires a range of measures, from prudent antibiotic prescribing to implementing best practice in chronic wound management and only a comprehensive approach will succeed in driving down numbers."

Jo Webber, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said a zero tolerance approach to infection must be embedded in the ethos of all NHS staff, and welcomed the extra funding set aside by ministers to help improve the situation.

“Healthcare professionals and managers will benefit from having such a comprehensive guideline, which presents a range of infection preventing measures in one place,” she concluded.