Hospital visitors could be charged over MRSA

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Private cleaning contractors, managers and even visitors could face criminal liability for spreading the hospital superbug MRSA in the NHS.

Private cleaning contractors, managers and even visitors could face criminal liability for spreading the hospital superbug MRSA in the NHS.

Patricia Hewitt, the new Secretary of State for Health, revealed the Government will be consulting on ways of imposing a stronger legal framework after the introduction of a new Health Bill in the Queen's Speech tomorrow.

The Health Improvement and Protection Bill will put a legal duty on hospital managers to keep their hospitals free of MRSA. It will be one of 40 measures designed to show that the Government is driving forward with radical reforms, despite the reduction in Tony Blair's majority to 67 in the general election.

The details are still being worked on, but Ms Hewitt said all visitors and staff had a responsibility for preventing the spread of MRSA. The bill could be strengthened to include criminal responsibility, she said, hinting that visitors could be subject to action if they wilfully refused to take precautions against the disease.

The proposal to impose liability on managers is likely to be welcomed by patients' groups which have called for tougher action to be taken against lax cleaning firms with contracts to clean NHS wards.

Ms Hewitt said: "We can't have a situation where we've got tougher hygiene laws and standards in food factories than we have for people who are ill in hospital."

The Government has been on the defensive since Michael Howard, the Tory leader, made action on MRSA one of the five Tory pledges for the general election. Mr Howard's mother-in-law died of the disease.

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