Thursday, 28 October 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
5. Mr. J. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action she intends to take to combat the spread of the MRSA superbug that appears to be rampant in hospitals here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26548/04]
Ms Harney: In 1999 the National Disease Surveillance Centre was asked to evaluate the problem of antimicrobial resistance, including MRSA, in Ireland and to formulate a strategy for the future. It gave detailed consideration to these issues and drew up a strategy for the control of the resistance in Ireland, which was launched on 19 June 2001. This report contains a wide range of detailed recommendations to address the issue, including a strategy to control the inappropriate use of antibiotics.
A national committee comprised of a wide range of experts was established in 2002 to develop guidelines, protocols and strategies in regard to antimicrobial resistance. As part of its remit it provides advice to the regional SARI committees in each health board area which were established as a result of the strategy’s recommendations. Tackling this problem is a multi-faceted issue which will require action on a number of fronts. Implementation of the strategy is taking place on a phased basis.
Since 1 January this year, MRSA bacteraemia is included in the revised list of notifiable diseases of the infectious diseases regulations so hospitals are now legally required to report an incidence of the infection.
Mr. J. Breen: I am disappointed with the Minister’s response. It is similar to a response given to a Priority Question on this matter in June 2001. Is the Minister aware that Ireland has the third highest incidence of infection from the MRSA bug in Europe? The incidence of the infection here is 42% compared with 44% in UK and 44% in Greece. The incidence of the infection here is the same level as that reported in Portugal, Malta, Italy and Croatia. Will the Minister explain why no statistics have been available since 2002 on the incidence of infection from the MRSA bug in this country? At that time it was indicated that 474 contracted the bug, but we have not been told how many people lost their lives as a result of contracting it. In the UK 7,000 to 8,000 people a year lose their lives as a result of contracting the MRSA bug. The UK authorities ask hospitals, in their own interests, to display the number of people who contracted the infection in their hospitals.
Has the Minister ever spoken to anyone who contracted the MRSA bug? If not, she is looking at a person who has. I contracted it in March and nearly lost my life. I have been told by my consultants that I will get back only 60% of the use of my right arm. The Minister trots out the same reply——
Mr. J. Breen: What measures will the Minister put in place? She should not trot out the same answer that the former Minister, Deputy Martin, gave in 2001, as she has done. I have with me a copy of Deputy Martin’s response. Is the Minister aware that a survey shows that in hospitals this year, 55% of doctors did not wash their hands between seeing patients, 35% changed their white coats only once per week and 9% wore gloves only when they were examining patients.
Mr. J. Breen: I suffered from the MRSA bug. As I stated in the Chamber when the Minister was appointed, I waited for 17 hours in a hospital in the west to get an antibiotic to save my life. Is this a health service of which we can be proud? We have ploughed money into it and have got nothing back. We have abused money.
Ms Harney: I am genuinely sorry that Deputy James Breen had this experience. I was not aware of it. As I am sure he knows, the bacterium lives in about 33% of normal, healthy people. It lives harmlessly on the skin and in the nose of approximately one in every three people in the country. It causes problems when it gets the opportunity to enter the body. The Deputy is correct that the most effective way of dealing with it is hand hygiene. It seems incredible but we had to issue guidelines on hand hygiene recently. When I saw this in my briefing note, I had to check whether it was correct. The guidelines are for those who work in health care settings and equally to those visiting patients that suffer from the bacterium. The chief medical officer, to whom I spoke before Question Time, said to me that the most practical and sensible thing we can do to stop the spread of the bacteria in a health setting in which people are particularly vulnerable and sick is to encourage hand hygiene and the washing of hands. The guidelines are intended to achieve this and money is being made available to the different regions with a view to implementing best practice in this area.
Ms Harney: I assure the Deputy that if he makes available to me in private the details of his case, with which I am not familiar, I will certainly examine it. If he contacts me in my office, I will certainly look into the matter, if I can.
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