Hospital infections, like MRSA, are the new British disease. They kill at least 5,000 people a year, more than die on our roads. But it is more than just a statistic. It is 5,000 needless personal tragedies, as I know only too well. Two years ago my mother-in-law died from a hospital-acquired infection. She was old and frail. But she still enjoyed her life, and her family loved her. She need not have died. Labour's response to the national scandal of the superbug has been just talk. We have had 21 initiatives in the past four years. Today, the Government will launch the 22nd. But all these initiatives have been designed just to catch headlines, not stop people catching the superbug. The rate of infection has doubled since they came to power.
Things could be different, and the next Conservative government will clean up our hospitals. We are going to scrap the plethora of targets that the head of the NHS admits make it harder to tackle the superbug. The National Audit Office has found that 12 per cent of infection control teams are refused permission by managers to shut an infected ward because it would mean a hospital missing its targets. That is disgraceful.
We will give every patient the right to choose what hospital they have their operation in. If patients do not want to be treated in a ward with a high rate of infection, they will not have to be. That way, hospital managers will have real incentives to force up standards. Britain's high rates of superbug are not inevitable, nor must a dozen people die in our hospitals from it every day. We can clean our hospitals and stop this waste of life. But more gimmicks and stunts from a government that is all talk will never do so. It is time for a government that will.
Michael Howard is Leader of the Opposition
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