Friday, August 08, 2008

British public hospitals infested with rats, fleas and bed bugs

Hygiene standards in NHS hospitals have been called into question after it emerged they are routinely dealing with infestations of vermin

Outbreaks have included rats in maternity wards, wasps and fleas in neo-natal units, bed bug infestations, flies in operating theatres and maggots found in patients' slippers. The data, uncovered using Freedom of Information rules, include hospitals with maggots, "over-run" with ants and mice "all over" wards; cockroaches in a urology unit and a store for sterile materials infested with mice. The figures raise questions over standards of cleanliness and hygiene in hospitals although the healthcare regulator said complaints about pests were 'negligible'.

The Conservatives asked all 171 hospital trusts in England for details of pest control incidents for the last two years. Of those, 127 Trusts responded and almost all had experienced problems and 100 of them collected detailed information about pest infestations. In total there were almost 20,000 reports of pest problems and seven out of 10 trusts that responded reported they had called in pest control officers more than 50 times since January 2006 - an average of once a fortnight.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital Trust, the trust at the centre of Britain's biggest superbug scandal when more than 300 patient deaths were linked to Clostridium difficile, reported more than 50 pest incidents in two years. A spokesman for Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust said: "Most incidents relate to old buildings which have now been demolished at Pembury Hospital. There is no specific problem."

Of the trusts that collected detailed information 80 per cent had problems with ants, 66 per cent had rats, 77 per cent had mice, 59 per cent had problems with cockroaches, 65 per cent had biting insects or fleas, 24 per cent had problems with bed bugs and 6 per cent had maggots.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Labour have said over and over again that they will improve cleanliness in our hospitals but these figures clearly show that they are failing. It is difficult for health service estates to maintain a completely pest free environment but the level and variety of these infestations is concerning. "We need greater transparency in NHS infection control, and publishing data like this is one way in which we can drive up overall hygiene standards."

Eight hospitals trusts called in pest control officers more than 500 times, with Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust having the most severe problem with 1,070 incidents in two years.

The healthcare watchdog inspects hospital trusts against a strict hygiene code and has the power to shut down wards, departments or even a whole hospital if there is a risk to patients. Christine Braithwaite, head of healthcare associated infection programme at the Healthcare Commission said: "We receive a wide range of information on hygiene from different sources. However, concerns around pest control have, to date, been negligible. "Clearly, it may be necessary to take action against pests in these large public buildings from time to time. "However, it is important for hospital trusts to have robust procedures in place to deal with any pest problems and if they persist, trusts should question whether they have the right systems in place. "If we were concerned that the safety of patients was at risk, through poor hygiene standards or in any other way, we would take immediate action."

Health Minister Ivan Lewis said: "Hospitals must be responsible for ensuring their buildings are clean and that patient safety is not compromised. The Hygiene Code requires NHS bodies to have a pest control policy that anticipates and manages this issue. "Trusts should take rapid action and follow through with surveillance in place to avoid pest incidents and minimize hazards. Use of pest control is a sign of good proactive management. "The claim that insects spread hospital acquired infections is entirely unproven. There is no evidence of their carriage of antibiotic resistant bacteria being a hazard to patients. Despite this we expect hospitals to take continued action to tackle pest problems"

Nottingham University Hospital had the most pest control incidents of any that responded to the Conservatives' request for information. John Simpson, Director of Estates and Facilities Management at Nottingham University Hospitals, said: "These figures must be put into context. It goes without saying that as the fourth largest trust in the country, our hospitals are bigger than most others around the country and therefore our figures should be compared with trusts with similar-sized estates rather than smaller acute trusts. "It is also worth bearing in mind that trusts are likely to have recorded and reported figures differently and therefore the table may not be comparing like-for-like data."


Neglect the kids ... it will stop them getting bored

Modern parents over-organise children's playtime. Just let them get on with it, urges our writer

Just days into the long holiday and the summer soundtrack isn't so much the sleepy drone of busy bees as the whine of listless children. The thrills of liberty and long lie-ins have worn thin, everyone else seems to have fled the country to enjoy holidays abroad and the "I'm bored..." mantra is driving parents to breaking point.

The reaction of many well-meaning adults is to swiftly organise weeks of activity aimed at keeping every minute of every hour so crammed with events that their offspring's ennui will be eased before it gets a chance to set in. But should we bother? Isn't it time we recognised the benefits of boredom and gave children the chance to use their own initiative and learn how to entertain themselves?

Guilt simply comes with the territory for most parents, especially as so many people now work full-time and perform amazing juggling acts to ferry their children around, with timetables crammed not just with education but also with huge amounts of extracurricular activities. Holidays too are now packed with sports/art/drama camps, every minute timetabled.

Paddy O'Donnell, professor of social psychology at the University of Glasgow, has been studying the long-term effects of structured play and the way it has impacted at university level over the past ten to 15 years. "Children have a natural inclination to play and explore and until they reach around the age of 3 this is directed by the parents, hopefully helping them to deepen their curiosity and learn to use language to explore the world. "Once they reach 3 they are interested in social play, which becomes a major feature of their activities. Boredom shouldn't last long if children are in the right environment where they're dragged off either by curiosity or the desire to socialise. It continues only if there's no one to play with or the environment's too restrictive."

The age of 5 or 6 has always been a crucial stage at which youngsters naturally tend to stop spending so much time with their parents and seek the company of their peers. Children like playing with their own age group and find siblings less interesting, though they'll make do with them when there's no alternative, such as during family holidays.

Adults who feel morally obliged to spend every waking hour entertaining their children and doing everything "as a family" might want to take stock at this point, especially as O'Donnell also points out that "parents should not be pals. Their role is as a parent, not as a friend, and children need to make their own friends."

According to O'Donnell, the shift in play over the past couple of decades is reflected in the attitudes of today's students. "Schools, clubs and other activities are now very much leader-related," he says. "Unstructured play is becoming rarer with no moving as a pack or just getting on with activities - children always expect and want to relate individually to whomever is in charge and we now have 18, 19, 20-year-olds who can only function effectively like that. Students are far less confident than they were 15 years ago, far less likely to make a decision by themselves and with little aspiration to get things moving without someone else being in charge and directing them."

What are parents so scared of when it comes to leaving their children to get on with it? Desiring nothing more than freedom to do nothing is incomprehensible to modern parents, who steadfastly believe that structuring supervised activities is the best they can do for their ofspring. Escape and creativity are vital for development, but supervision now tempers a vast amount of activity.

Dr Richard Ralley, a senior psychology lecturer at Edge Hill College in Lancashire, is now quantifying a research project he carried out with 300 participants to assess the wider implications and benefits of boredom: "People often report that when they are bored they do nothing. Seen this way, boredom is useful - we conserve energy, but do not find this pleasant, so are ready to engage with the next useful activity that comes along. "The brain sucks up a fifth of our energy and our children are the most heavily assessed in Europe. Some genuine downtime seems due."

One of the hardest parts of parenting is letting children develop independence to learn to think for themselves, but if sent off cheerfully to try something different few children will demur. However, add a nervous or weepy parent, over-the-top exhortations to take care and a terrifying list of what can go wrong - and failure seems the most likely outcome. We would all like our children to grow into well-rounded and capable human beings in the safety of our own living rooms, but it doesn't work like that.

Ralley says that parents should leave their children to feel fed-up, rather than keeping them constantly occupied, as boredom could also allow children to get sufficient rest. "One of the features that has arisen in people's reports so far is a loneliness that comes with boredom, as well as the inadequacy of grasping on to any kind of activity to relieve it. I'm starting to believe that being bored is a signal to stop doing other things and to re-engage socially. I've always suggested that social activity is best: a family beach trip, playing football, having a picnic." Once you've embraced the idea of benign neglect having a valid position in parenting, you're still left with the problem of actually finding the places where children can entertain themselves safely. Aim for physical activity, especially as that will ensure real sleep at the end of the day and remove the time constraints, irrespective of whether you're at a beach, country park or in a forest. Give children basic safety instructions, make sure they know where to find you and then tell them that you'll see them when they're hungry or bored with messing around.

The real test then will actually be for the parents, as very few of us can sit peacefully for two or three hours and not leap fretfully towards every sound, or lack of sound. Build up the time if you lack confidence in yourself or your children, watch over them unseen if you really cannot bear to let them out of your sight and then let them get on with it - the Lord of the Flies-style confrontations excepted.

Letting kids run screaming into the wind on an empty beach, leaving them to get filthy building a den in the woods, or just spending a whole day slouching in their pyjamas without one parental exhortation to get dressed, might be hard for parents who are used to driving their children everywhere - in every sense. But when it comes to journeying into their own imagination, children are best left to travel solo.


Archbishop compares homosexual relationships to marriage : "The Archbishop of Canterbury has claimed that active homosexual relationships are "comparable to marriage" in the eyes of God. [Thus showing complete contempt for the Bible]

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