One of the advantages of being a Conservative Candidate looking for a seat is that I have been able to travel all across the country in recent months. From Norfolk to Devon via the Midlands and London's commuter towns I hear the same stories of bed cuts at the local hospitals.
Last week we were told of rising death rates from MRSA and Clostridium difficile "C-Diff". I'm glad to hear that my local hospital has bucked the trend on MRSA but this other bug C-Diff is a real worry to many doctors.
O'level French reminds me that difficle means difficult and C-Diff is aptly named. It is very difficult to control. It is also a killer. I am told the new strain of C-Diff has a 25% mortality rate amongst older patients. Though NHS Direct is less pessimistic. It is often described as a bacteria but it is more complicated than that. It is a toxin producing organism that causes uncontrollable explosive diarrhea. As a mum, I remember similar explosions back in my nappy changing days. The stuff goes everywhere. The explosion contains spores that can be picked up on the hands of passers by and transmitted to other patients.
C-Diff is resistant to anti-biotics and in many cases the problem is caused by anti-biotics. We all know that a course of anti-biotics wipes out those "good bacteria" that have become so well known thanks to Yakult. Frail elderly patients who are given broad-spectrum anti-biotics to cure the sickness that brought them into hospital, now are unable to fight off the C-Diff that they pick up. The C-Diff diarrhea is so debilitating that patients often can't stand up, let alone start to get better from their original complaint.
Over recent years patients, visitors and staff have been really vigilant at using those Alcohol Gels to keep their hands clean. This has helped the battle against MRSA, but C-Diff is immune to the Alcohol Gel. It can only be removed by old fashioned prolonged hand washing. Across the country though I hear of sinks that don't work, sinks that are now hidden behind the laundry basket and even sinks being phased out in the design phases of new wards!
So what does this have to do with those bed cuts? Because of the explosive nature of the diarrhea the best way to prevent transfer is to isolate those already infected. Today's NHS runs at a bed occupancy rate of 98-100% so isolation is often impossible - there just aren't enough beds. One eminent specialist that I spoke to said that ideally in wards for older people there should be an 80% occupancy rate.
We go into hospital to get better - not to get worse. Our doctors want to cure us. Lets help them to do it and stop those bed cuts.