Healthcare: At a Glance - MRSA rockets up the political agenda

A reference to the death of Luke Day?

The tragic death of a 36-hour-old baby from the MRSA superbug, the youngest person to die in this way, hit the front pages last week - but MRSA is in the news on a regular basis. The NHS is a crucial PR battleground in the forthcoming general election.

What are the parties' key messages?

The Conservatives are concentrating poster messaging on waiting lists, but are keen to flag up the number of MRSA deaths and issues, such as hospital cleanliness. Labour PROs will be putting in overtime to counter this, with the news that MRSA-related infections fell six per cent last year. But the greatest workload falls to the Department of Health.

How is the DoH press team handling MRSA?

As civil servants, the press office is politically impartial. But PROs have been reinforcing the point that infection levels are down for the first time since records began four years ago.

Which PROs are dealing with the issue?

Senior PRO Ben Lewis has been leading DoH comms on MRSA for the past six months. He is part of an eight-strong public health desk led by chief PRO Michael Clarke. Lewis also liaises with the department's policy communication branch, which deals with broader issues of infection control and health protection.

What message is the team putting out?

In media furores such as that over Day, PROs are largely reactive on MRSA, but otherwise the message is that the issue is being addressed. Part of the PR effort is, the DoH says, to explain that MRSA was not 'nipped in the bud' in the 1990s with the result that the UK faces a bigger problem than other European countries.

What are the main DoH-approved, MRSA-related hygiene initiatives?

Take your pick: Winning Ways, Matron's Charter, Think Clean Day and 'cleanyourhands' have all embraced the fight against MRSA. A rapid swab technique to identify MRSA in incoming patients is about to be piloted.

Further information www.dh.gov.uk.

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