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MRSA Scandal - "Single rooms and isolation units clearly identified as far back as 2001 but government action was not taken” – Ó Caoláin

14 November, 2007

Sinn Féin TD and Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caolain this evening secured a Dáil debate on the continuing proliferation of MRSA affecting the country's hospitals.

Speaking during the debate Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"I was prompted to raise this matter when it was revealed yesterday that Beaumont Hospital in Dublin is so overcrowded and lacking in beds that it is unable to provide isolation facilities for one third of those of its patients with MRSA. This is a shocking and scandalous situation.

"Beaumont Hospital is a large teaching hospital serving the population not only of the north side of Dublin but, for many services, the entire North East region. It is a national centre for renal dialysis and kidney transplant, a national centre for neurosurgery and it is planned to locate one of the promised centres of excellence for cancer care at Beaumont.

"The 2006 Annual Report of the infection control ream in Beaumont says that because of a lack of beds it was not possible to isolate or ring-fence one in three patients colonised by or infected with MRSA. The report contains the following paragraph which I can only describe as frightening:

"The physical resources of the hospital are under enormous pressure to deliver a quality service and serious questions remain about the safety of patients in certain situations, for example non-MRSA patients being cared for in ward areas with MRSA positive patients due to inadequate isolation facilities and a cramped, out-dated intensive care unit."

"The report states clearly that facilities are inadequate in the hospital for the control and prevention of MRSA as well for other infections. Beaumont has clearly identified the need for additional beds. Without these it cannot provide isolation units and single rooms which are absolutely essential for the treatment of MRSA and to prevent its further ation throughout our hospitals.

"In other countries such as the Netherlands, where hospitals have a far greater proportion of single rooms, they have made great advances in stamping out these infections.

"We are still living with the legacy of the overcrowded Victorian ward system. Action is needed now to provide the facilities to address this grave threat to patients in our hospital system.

"The critical situation regarding MRSA and other major infections has been thrown into stark relief by the release yesterday of the first National Hygiene Service Quality Review by the Health Information and Quality Authority. This also makes frightening reading. It says the majority of public hospitals in Ireland need to dramatically improve their hygiene standards.

"The report states that just seven of 51 hospitals have good hygiene standards, while none were found to have very good standards. Nine hospitals are rated as poor and the remaining 35 as fair. The HIQA says the findings show that most hospitals need to take measures to improve standards.

"In welcoming the audit the Health Service Executive said it reflects significant improvements in hygiene and is a validation of the focus it has placed on the matter in the last two years. That may well be so and I commend all those who have made increased efforts to improve these standards in our hospitals. But the HSE statement begs the question as to what hospitals were like prior to this two-year drive if yesterday's HIQA report is seen as a sign of improvement.

"It was revealed last June that as far back as May 2001 the infection control committee for University College Hospital and Merlin Park Hospital in Galway were expressing anger and dismay at the non-implementation of policies to combat MRSA. These revelations confirmed that if concerted action had been taken at an early stage MRSA would probably not have become as widespread as it now is throughout our hospital system.

"The need for far more single rooms and isolation units was clearly identified as far back as 2001 but action was not taken.

"The continuing very high prevalence of MRSA in Irish hospitals is a national scandal. 587 MRSA bloodstream infections were reported last year. These figures represent only a proportion of people infected with MRSA as it does not include those with wound infections.

"This is a damning indictment of successive Government, but especially the outgoing FF/PD Coalition which has favoured privatisation over the upgrading of the public hospital system. The high incidence of MRSA is a direct result of the overcrowding, lack of beds and shortage of personnel in our public hospitals.

"A&E units and wards are under constant pressure and the highest standards of hygiene cannot be maintained. The privatisation of hospital cleaning services has meant that standards of cleanliness are not being kept up. Cleanliness and hygiene should be an integral part of every hospital's work, with cleaning staff employed by the hospital and part of the hospital team.

"Sinn Féin is calling for an effective national strategy against MRSA to be delivered locally in every hospital, nursing home and other care setting. Patients must be fully informed when they have MRSA and deaths attributable to MRSA should be reported to coroners.

"The prevalence of MRSA is one of the main reasons the promised 3000 additional hospital beds need to be delivered, including single rooms and isolation units." CRÍOCH

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