HL Deb 14 October 1985 vol 467 cc342-4

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, in the sad absence of my noble friend Lord Ennals, who is in hospital, he has requested me to beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement following the recent reports on hygiene in hospital kitchens.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I should like first to say that I wish the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, a very speedy recovery from his broken leg. I had thought that his very unlucky break might be my lucky break!

We are most concerned about these reports. The maintenance of standards is the responsibility of health authorities, who are expected to comply with the food hygiene regulations. Our guidance states clearly that environmental health officers should have open access to hospital catering departments and that their recommendations be considered and acted upon promptly.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Baroness has said. The recommendations suggest that they should be acted upon promptly, which causes me to ask what steps are taken when they are not acted upon. Is there not unfortunate and sad evidence that many of those recommendations have not been acted upon, at least in the case of 97 really dirty hospitals?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I should not argue about the numbers involved because in all cases they have not been proved. However, a number of initiatives are being pursued. First, we have written to regional health authorities reiterating the need to ensure the highest possible standards of hygiene. Secondly, all claims are being investigated and, in the light of this, consideration is being given to strengthening our guidance on procedures and the need for further training. Thirdly, a series of hygiene check lists is being introduced for use by both environmental health officers and staff in catering departments.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, can my noble friend help me a little on this point? Is it not true that, if the number of people who died as a result of the Bradford incident had been eating at a private restaurant, the manager would have been "inside" for a very long time? Furthermore, does this not lead to the view that there is a need for the reduction of Crown privilege in hospitals, so that people who are really careless and sloppy with their hygiene may be prosecuted, and prosecuted as they would be if they were in ordinary outside employment?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister for State for Health has made it very clear that all evidence of unhygienic food handling and pest infestation will be dealt with urgently. It would be wrong at this stage to reach the conclusion that lifting Crown immunity is the only answer. This option has not been ruled out. Prosecution would take place after the event: we in the Government are determined that such events simply shall not occur.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Baroness please be prepared to consider asking the Secretary of State if he in turn will consider that the staff of all health regions are serviced by their representatives—namely, the Royal College, the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the British Medical Association? I am reliably informed that they would willingly help in any way whatsoever so that these things which are happening can be brought to the attention of the authorities immediately and then dealt with. They are working on the spot. They should be taken into the full confidence of the health authority, and I believe that that should be enforced by the Secretary of State.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, this is, of course, a matter for the health authorities. It is a matter for them whom they wish to consult, but I am sure that they consult everybody they feel can help in this situation.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister if it is not a very worrying situation that strains of salmonella are becoming resistant to antibiotics? Would it not be advisable for health authorities to lay before Parliament and the public annually a report on their kitchens?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, reports of salmonella are indeed worrying. Whether health authorities should make a report annually would be a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I shall bring this to his notice.