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FactCheck: has MRSA been deep cleaned away?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 30 January 2008

Crime, superbugs, defence spending were all bowled at Gordon Brown at today's Prime Minster's Questions.

All quotes from Prime Minister's Questions, 30 January 2008

The claim
"Today the Health Protection Authority published figures showing a dramatic improvement in the rate of MRSA and Clostridium Difficile following the deep clean of our hospitals."
Robert Flello, Labour MP (Stoke-on-Trent South), PMQs, 30 January 2008

The analysis

The Labour MP makes a classic political manoeuvre - claiming, erroneously, that one factor caused another. In this case, his chronology doesn't even check out.

First, let's look at today's official figures.

They do indeed show the number of cases of both MRSA and C-dif (in the over 65s) dropped.

C-dif cases fell from 13,669 in April-June 2007 to 10,734 in July-September. MRSA dropped from 1,304 to 1,072 in the same periods.

MRSA has steadily fallen from 1,651 a year ago; C-dif is also down from 12,821, although cases shot up in the early part of 2007.

The deep clean, however, wasn't even announced until October 2007 - a month after the period the most recent figures reflect.

Just how useful the headline-friendly deep clean - supposed to get hospitals back to a squeaky clean new-build condition - will be in tackling superbugs, which are passed on by people rather than lurking in dusty old corner, has been questioned by respected medical journal The Lancet and elsewhere.

Dr Mark Enright told FactCheck last autumn that the programme may end up causing more problems than it solved.

Gordon Brown mentioned the wider government bug-busting programme in his answer. He also reeled off a load of Labour's achievements "since June", including a new dress code, more matrons and of course the deep cleans - which are "well underway".

It is for these reasons, he says that we can report that MRSA infections down 18 per centin last quarter, C diff down 21 per cent in last quarter.

Today, the Department of Health said it expected hospitals to complete the "deep clean" by the end March, but couldn't provide any more details on how far it had progressed to date as it was being done on a local level.

But although today's figures do bode well for recent achievements, there's no way short of a time machine that they can be attributed to the deep clean policy.

The sources
HPA Press Statement, 30 January 2008, Latest figures show continuing decline in MRSA bloodstream infections
NHS moves forward with deep clean, Department of Health (National), Wednesday 21 November 2007
FactCheck: Brown's Keynote

The claim
"Defence spending has risen for every year under this government; it was cut by 20 per cent between 1992 and 1997."
Gordon Brown, prime minister, PMQs, 30 January 2008

The analysis

Labour's claim to have increased defence spending every year was put to the FactCheck test recently.

Although the range of different ways of interpreting the numbers made the whole thing complicated, no measure showed a consistent, year-on-year rise.

Sharper increases at the start of this decade - around the time of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - led to a belt-tightening in the following years.

What about the 20 per cent Conservative cut?

Using the treasury's spending figures, defence spending fell from £23.8bn in1992-1993 to £22.1bn in 1996-1997 - a 7 per cent drop. Adjust the figures to take inflation into account, and in real terms, that's a16 per cent cut.

As a proportion of GDP - a handy way of assessing how big a slice of the country's cash pie something is being given - defence spending fell from 3.8 to 2.8 per cent - or a 26 per cent cut.

FactCheck: Defence spending
Public Expenditure Annual Outturns, the treasury

The claim
"We should scrap the form that the police have to fill in every time they stop someone - it's a foot long and it take seven minutes to complete."
David Cameron, Conservative Party leader, PMQs, 30 January 2008

The analysis

Today's Sun splashes an interview with the Tory leader on its front page. In it he promises to give police officers greater stop and search powers.

Cameron carried on the attack in today's PMQs, calling for the scrapping of the "foot-long" form which the police have to fill out whenever they stop somebody - something he says takes seven minutes to complete.

Stopwatches out - where does this seven-minute figure come from?

Neither the Tories or the Government were able to give us a definitive answer today, but it's something that's been around for a while.

For example, in October 2004, then Tory leader Michael Howard told the party conference: "It takes seven minutes to complete that form. Just think about it. If a police officer stops half a dozen unruly youngsters, he'll have to spend the best part of an hour filling in forms."

Perhaps this is an under-estimate. Cameron illustrates his point by mentioning one police area that had to fill in 79,000 stop forms in a year - which the Tory leader reckons absorbs 9,216 hours of valuable police time.

Brown refused to commit to scrapping the forms, but notes that the Government has taken on board the recommendations of an interim review by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, out last September, which recommended doing away with the bureaucracy around stop and search.

According to Flanagan's report, the "administration and recording processes" of 79,000 forms were estimated to take 25 minutes each. This would, the reports notes, equal 32,916 hours staff time for those filling and processing stop and account forms.

Cam: I'll mend broken Britain, The Sun
Howard puts crime at heart of pledges, The Independent
The Review of Policing by Sir Ronnie Flanagan: Interim Report

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