The Government's drive to deep-clean every hospital in England came under sustained attack on its deadline of 31 March.
Ministers said at least 93 per cent of NHS trusts would complete the process by last night, but opposition parties condemned the exercise as "gesture politics". Infection control experts, hospital managers and cleaning contractors dismissed the programme, claiming trusts would be back to square one within days unless the cleaning was sustained.
Professor Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University said the £57.5m drive, announced by Gordon Brown last September, was "an expensive waste of resources". He added: "Politicians get hung up on cleaning but the major issue isn't environmental, it is the people bringing the bugs into hospital. That is what they should be attacking."
The Tories claimed only a fraction of the money earmarked for the exercise had actually been spent. The Liberal Democrats said no research had been commissioned into the effects of deep cleaning. Norman Lamb, their health spokesman, said: "This exercise has been an example of gesture politics."
The Health minister Ben Bradshaw said: "MRSA is down 13 per cent this year and C. difficile is down 16 per cent."