I propose to take Questions Nos. 56, 62, 108, 109, 125, 140, 148, 241, 313 and 314 together.
Prevention and control of hospital acquired infections is a priority for me and for the Health Service Executive. The director of the national hospitals office has engaged external consultants to carry out an independent hygiene audit of every hospital this summer. The results of the audit will be made public and will ensure that the issue of hygiene is taken more seriously by hospitals than has been the case in the past.
Every hospital will know that the public will have access to the results of the hygiene audit and this will encourage hospitals to perform better to tackle MRSA and help to ensure that the matter is taken seriously. I am not happy with the standard of hygiene in hospitals and it is one of the first things I asked the new national hospitals office to deal with. I am determined that our hospitals are run to the highest possible standards. There is no excuse for low standards when huge money is being spent on cleaning programmes involving both in-house cleaning and outside contracts.
We need an all out national effort to deal with MRSA. Anything that requires to be done will be done, by way of reporting, getting correct data published and changing practices in hospitals. We will also make money available for public awareness campaigns targeted at people visiting hospitals so they are fully informed about best hygiene practices.
I am aware of the recent report published by the Irish Patients Association on hospital acquired infections, HAIs. Since 1 January 2004, MRSA is included in the revised schedule of infectious diseases under the infectious diseases regulations. Under these regulations the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, must be notified of persons suffering from any of the diseases set out in the schedule to the regulations. The HPSC also collects data on MRSA bloodstream infection as part of the European antimicrobial resistance surveillance system.
The number of MRSA cases reported in Ireland for 2004 was 553. The provisional figure for the first quarter of 2005 is 145. According to the HPSC, the rates of MRSA observed in Ireland is high and compares with the United Kingdom, France and southern European countries. The lowest rates are seen in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, although those rates are rising.
A SARI infection control sub-committee has recently updated the national guidelines for the control and prevention of MRSA in hospitals and in the community. The key recommendations cover such areas as environmental cleanliness, bed occupancy levels, isolation facilities, hand hygiene, appropriate antibiotic use and protocols for the screening and detection of MRSA. These guidelines are with the Health Service Executive for finalisation and should be published in the coming weeks.