HL Deb 11 December 2001 vol 629 cc1231-3

2.46 p.m.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take with regard to the report on the inadequate sterilisation of surgical instruments made in the BBC "Panorama" programme of Sunday, 11th November.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, over the past year, we have carried out a comprehensive survey of decontamination facilities and practices in the NHS. Those hospitals falling below the necessary standard were required to produce action plans. As a result, all NHS acute hospitals in England now have access to satisfactory decontamination services. The results of that work, and a comprehensive survey, are being published today.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, is it correct that the Government asked an expert in this field, Mr David Hurrell, to investigate the effectiveness of the methods used to sterilise hospital instruments in the NHS? If so, why was it that after Mr Hurrell produced his report and the Government had read it, he was given orders to keep it strictly confidential and to destroy all copies of it, as the "Panorama" programme disclosed? Is not the chairman of the panel investigating CJD quite right to say: It is astonishing to hold back such information from the public"? Finally, since Scotland has made similar information public, why cannot we have the same openness in England?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the snapshot survey to which the noble Baroness referred is being published alongside the full survey that the Government are publishing today. The snapshot survey was a small-scale survey that was based on a limited number of NHS trusts, and it informed the advice and guidance that was given to the NHS. It was followed by a full-scale survey and a requirement for action plans from those NHS trusts that were not producing adequate services. As a result, all acute trusts are providing satisfactory services in relation to decontamination. The snapshot survey has informed the whole process. It was undertaken during the past two years and it, too, is being published today.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, does the Minister remember that on 28th September 2001, the Government said in their Response to the Report of the BSE Inquiry: Experience in dealing with public health concerns has demonstrated the value of an open and consultative approach to risk management"? Does he also remember that the Government said in that report: Openness was seen as essential to regaining public trust"? Does he feel that that squares with the suppression of David Hurrell's report from the public and from the CJD Incidents Panel? Should it have taken the tabling of this Question to produce that report?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the noble Baroness talks about suppression. I have already informed the House that the survey to which she referred has been published today, alongside a much fuller comprehensive survey. On the process, surely the process that we have followed is satisfactory. It involved an initial sample survey identifying problems and the giving of advice to the NHS. That was followed by a comprehensive survey and further advice. Actions plans were required and then action was taken. That process has ensured that he NHS has moved from a position in which a good many of its decontamination services were unsatisfactory to the current position, in which all such services are up to a satisfactory level.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, bearing in mind the increase in hospital infections and their resistance to antibiotics, does the Minister agree that infection control, which includes sterilisation of instruments, has become much more important? Is it not important to push hospital trusts to come forward with reports, because some of them did not produce reports as they were told to do?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

Yes, my Lords. I pay tribute to the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, which has drawn to the attention of the Government and the NHS the problems of antibiotic use. Since its report was published, we have seen a reduction in the use of antibiotics. Your Lordships' Select Committee also reported on the issue of hospital-acquired infections, which is very much linked to that problem. As a result, we have introduced into the NHS a controls assurance scheme, which requires all NHS trusts to take a serious interest in hospital-acquired infection. Since 1st April 2001, all acute trusts have been required to participate in a new surveillance service and to provide data on MRSA. With robust, base-line data we can performance-manage the NHS to ensure that it improves the way in which it deals with hospital-acquired infection.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, my noble friend has been very helpful to the House. However, can he clarify one point? Why was this material not published until today?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I have explained to the House—

Noble Lords


Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

I believe that I have done so—certainly to my satisfaction. A couple of years ago an original piece of work was undertaken to indicate the type of issue and state of preparedness of the NHS in relation to decontamination standards. That work informed the issue of what guidance should be made available to the NHS, and was followed up by a comprehensive survey. The results of that survey are published today, alongside the snapshot survey. In addition, a huge amount of extra money has been spent by the NHS on improving decontamination services. As noble Lords will see if they read the comprehensive report published today, the result is that all acute trusts in England now have satisfactory decontamination standards.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, perhaps I may ask—

Noble Lords

Next Question.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, we are now into the 16th minute and a Question about cats and dogs is to follow.