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21 February 2008 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

The fight against hospital infections needs resources

THE call by the Assembly Health Committee on the Minister for Health, Michael McGimpsey, to instigate a full, independent, public inquiry into the Clostridium Difficille outbreak in the North’s hospitals is welcome. But the minister’s reluctance to act even though he now claims not to have ruled out a public inquiry is a further sign of his indecision and preference for information management rather than openness and transparency.  
I believe that there has been such an erosion of public confidence in the health service as a result of the manner in which this issue has been handled that the only way to restore that confidence is through the transparency of a full, independent, public inquiry.
The situation has deteriorated to the situation where elderly people are cancelling appointments rather than take the risk of contracting a hospital-acquired infection. The sooner that public confidence in the health service is restored the sooner he will be able to concentrate on delivering the first-class service that the public deserves.
Although my immediate focus is on the impact that this issue is having on hospitals in my own constituency, I believe that it affects patients throughout the island. And while I believe that it is a common problem throughout the island, it seems that is not the only similarity around the issue of hospital-acquired infections. The handling of the issue is also similar in that attempts to get full information about the extent of the problem and what measures are being taken to tackle it are too easily dismissed by health ministers, North and South, and referred to HSE or health trust administrators.
I believe that the rush by Irish and British governments to privatise and contract out more and more of the ancillary services in our hospitals is one of the major contributory factors in the increase of hospital-acquired infections such as C-Difficille and MRSA. It is significant that in the two private hospitals in the North there has not been a single recorded case of C-Difficille being a contributory or direct cause of death. Yet in the public health sector, all health trust areas have reported an increasing number of C-Difficille-related deaths now numbering in the high 80s. I would be interested to know the differential in recorded cases between the private and public sector in the 26 Counties of MRSA and C-Difficille.
Could part of the answer to the low incidence of hospital-acquired infections in the private sector be that they have access to sufficient finances to have in-house, dedicated cleaning personnel.
In recent times we have seen the resolute and immediate action taken by the Ministers for Agriculture in Belfast and Dublin when there was a threat to animal health. Is it not time that the human health authorities on this island acted as resolutely when it comes to protecting the health of our people, particularly the frail and elderly?

An Phoblacht Magazine


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