“SUPERBUG CRISIS worse than feared”. “The deadly superbug that puts Britain’s hospitals to shame.”
Those are just two of last week’s newspaper headlines about the MRSA superbug affecting Britain’s hospitals.
MRSA is a bacterium resistant to key antibiotics. The National Audit Office estimates that 5,000 people die each year from infections such as MRSA.
Cases of MRSA have increased by 600 percent in less than ten years. Britain has the highest MRSA infection rate in Europe.
This is a direct result of the market being forced into the NHS over the last 15 years.
Cost cutting, staff shortages, privatisation, time pressures, and pressure to meet government targets are leading to dirty wards and poor hygiene.
Some 49 percent of nurses interviewed by the Which consumer magazine blamed contracting out for the rise in superbugs.
Since Margaret Thatcher pioneered the contracting out of cleaning services in the NHS the number of cleaners has fallen from 88,307 in 1986 to fewer than 30,000 now.
If hospitals fail to meet their targets to cut back on waiting lists their performance-related ratings can fall, which means they can lose £2 million a year.
Overcrowded wards can also help infections to be passed from one person to another.
The government wants a 100 percent occupancy rate for beds to reduce waiting lists. Evidence from Europe shows that an 85 percent bed occupancy rate dramatically reduces infections.
As a Unison union spokesperson told Socialist Worker, “There is a correlation between contracting out cleaning in hospitals and the rise of MRSA.
“Hospitals went for the cheapest contracts, which meant cutting staff, their terms and conditions, and their wages.
“In a report about PFI, Unison found that people were going from cleaning the toilets to dishing out the tea. So its easy to see how infections can get spread in hospitals.”
The government’s recently announced clampdown on sick leave across the public sector can only make the spread of infection more likely. Sick staff will feel pressured into turning up for work.