UK Hospitals Told To
Clean Up Over CJD
James Meikle - Health Correspondent
Hospitals have been ordered to improve their decontamination and sterilisation procedures to reduce the theoretical risk of patients catching the fatal human form of BSE.
The government yesterday promised £200m would be spent in England alone on new equipment - and confirmed that surgeons must use throw-away instruments for all tonsil operations in Britain, a change that will cost a further £30m a year.
The measures, part of an extensive overhaul of hospital hygiene to fight the spread of variant CJD, compare with the £6bn cost of programmes to control BSE in cattle and lost exports.
Ministers and senior officials hope that the modernisation of cleansing will help reduce the costs for far more expensive rekitting of hospitals with disposable equipment for more complicated and more expensive operations than tonsillectomy, which is usually performed on children with equipment costing just a few hundred pounds. But they concede that the changes in that operation, expected to be completed this year, could provide valuable lessons for far wider use of once-only instruments if that were necessary.
Eighty-three people have died from vCJD, with five known victims still alive, but scientists still have little idea of the eventual size of the epidemic. The Department of Health is so worried that present decontamination, sterilisation and even washing arrangements are not up to scratch that it is conducting a national survey and has appointed a central management team to ensure improvements are carried out. Every NHS trust is expected to have an official responsible for changes.
Problems with existing sterilisation equipment, regardless of the vCJD threat, were highlighted late last year by orthopaedic surgeons at a Portsmouth hospital who threatened to stop all emergency operations, saying patients' lives were at risk.
The new money for equipment in England will be phased over two years. The NHS in Scotland set aside £3m for improvements this year and an audit is under way to see just what changes may be needed in Wales.
Pat Troop, deputy chief medical officer for England, said: "We still do not know how many people might be incubating vCJD. There is a theoretical risk that it can be passed through surgical instruments from those who have yet to show symptoms of the disease. The highest standards of decontamination are the cornerstone of our strategy to reduce risks."

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