HC Deb 12 November 1985 vol 86 cc415-6
5. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he has any proposals to seek to improve hygiene in hospitals.

Mr. Hayhoe

In view of the importance of hospitals maintaining a good standard of hygiene, I have called for urgent action by health authorities concerned in response to recent criticisms of hospital kitchens. The scope for further measures is under urgent consideration.

Mr. Alton

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Given that 10 per cent. of patients acquire infectious diseases while resident in hospital, and in view of recent critical reports of wards and hospital kitchens, does the Minister not think that it is time hospitals were excluded from the exemption from prosecution which they currently enjoy?

Mr. Hayhoe

I certainly recognise the concern of those who pick up infections in hospital. The first priority must be to take action to deal with dirty, bug-infested kitchens or other areas in hospitals. As I have indicated, the matter of Crown immunity is being considered.

Mr. Cash

In view of the recent experience of legionnaire's disease in Stafford, and now again in Glasgow, will my right hon. Friend assure me that proper measures are being taken to ensure that matters of this kind are adequately covered in future?

Mr. Hayhoe

Guidance has already been issued concerning legionnaire's disease. I think that the whole House would wish to express its concern and sympathy and condolences to the relatives of those who have been affected by the outbreak in Glasgow. This is a matter primarily for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Minister aware that surveys show that 60 per cent. of National Health Service hospitals have food hygiene standards below the Government's food hygiene regulations, and that 16 per cent. would warrant prosecution were it not for Crown immunity? When I took a deputation to the Minister recently asking for the abolition of Crown immunity, I gained the impression, rightly or wrongly, that he was deterred by the financial considerations. Has the Minister made any costing of the abolition of Crown immunity? If so, what costing has he made?

Mr. Hayhoe

The right hon. Gentleman must have come to the meeting with his delegation already under that impression, because nothing that I said to him when we met at the House a while ago could have sustained such an impression in his mind. I have indicated that matters connected with Crown immunity are under consideration. A general change in Crown immunity would require primary legislation.

Mr. Stern

Will my right hon. Friend reject the big bang theory that would be involved in the abolition of Crown immunity, and at the same time provide opportunities for those in charge of hospitals and other public buildings to reassure the public of the generally very high standards of hygiene that currently exist?

Mr. Hayhoe

That would generally be true. I repeat that Crown immunity should not and must not be used by those responsible for deferring or postponing action to deal with unhygienic conditions.

Mr. Craigen

With the further deaths in Glasgow from legionnaire's disease, how closely is the Minister working with his colleagues in Scotland and Wales to combat this insidious problem?

Mr. Hayhoe

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, there is an inquiry into the whole matter. That inquiry, which has already produced an interim report, will be looking very carefully at any lessons that can be learnt from the unfortunate and tragic occurrence in Glasgow.