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Plans to cut the level of hospital-acquired infections and improve general standards of hygiene in National Health Service (NHS) hospitals were published last month by UK Health Secretary John Reid. "Cleanliness remains a major patient concern and MRSA [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus] is a growing problem," he said, adding that he will ensure that "every hospital publishes and displays its infection rates and trends, since patients have the right to know. Patients will have a choice of hospitals by the end of next year and this could become a factor in their decision."

Noting that "cleanliness is as important to the public as waiting times," Reid said putting it at the heart of the NHS inspection regime and introducing a new target to cut MRSA "will ensure that the whole NHS gives this issue the same high priority that the public does." Reid's document, titled Towards Cleaner Hospitals and Lower Rates of Infection, outlines how the NHS and Department of Health will take action in those areas. The moves announced last month fall into six areas:

1) Being open with the public about the issue, including the public display of each hospital trust's infection rates and trends, and their inclusion in published reports at PALs offices and on the Internet.

2) Measures to involve patients in monitoring the situation in their local hospitals, including cleanliness inspections by each trust's Patients' Forum four times a year, based on what infection control nurses say to look for, with the results made public, along with speed-dial buttons for housekeeping on new patient bedside phones.

3) Measures to give staff at ward level the tools and encouragement to put cleanliness and infection control a top priority, such as plans for a new charter for hospital matrons, setting out what works – such as cleaned beds in children's wards being indicated by a teddy bear – so busy nursing staff know a bed has been cleaned and prepared for a new patient, new lines of accountability for matrons to be in charge of cleaning staff and ensuring patients' views are listened to, detailed checklist for infection control nurses to use when inspecting wards and other areas, and national rollout of the National Patient Safety Agency's "cleanyourhands" campaign, which has been shown to improve staff hand hygiene, with alcohol rubs at every staff patient contact point.

4) Moves to ensure consistent national standards and monitoring of progress, including a new target of reducing MRSA rates year on year for every acute-care trust; new national healthcare standards, in force beginning next April, which will include cleanliness and infection control at their heart; a detailed national review of infection control and cleanliness by the Healthcare Commission, which it will be asked to undertake during this year; and a new model cleaning contract for hospitals, ensuring contracts put quality above cost.

5) Measures to ensure that lessons are learned from the best at home and abroad, including experts from countries with low MRSA rates being invited to advise the NHS on improving infection control; such experts and professionals from the cleanest hospitals in the NHS helping review Standards of Cleanliness; research on how many single rooms are needed in hospitals to minimize infections; and a new drive to increase the proportion of single rooms in new hospitals.

6) Moves to ensure that science makes the maximum contribution to tackling this problem, including new research into testing cleanliness levels and the convening by Reid of a "science summit" of leading experts to advise on the best avenues for new research into hospital infections.

GE opens new research center

General Electric (GE; Fairfield, Connecticut) in late June opened its new European Global Research Center in Garching, Germany, near Munich. GE said the 10,000-square-meter facility, which is located on the campus of the Technical University of Munich, is the latest addition to its $4 billion worldwide technology development effort.

Advanced medical imaging technologies – such as ultrasound, high-field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and molecular imaging – are among the four main research areas that are the focus of the new center. The others include alternative energy generation technologies, particularly hydrogen, biomass and fuel cells; electrical systems for renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and water; and specialized sensors for automotive, biological and harsh environment applications.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt said the initial $52 million investment in the new European center is part of his company's commitment to grow revenue through technological leadership. Immelt, who prior to ascending to the CEO post of the parent company headed GE's imaging products unit, GE Medical Systems (Waukesha, Wisconsin), said, "We're fueling our future growth today by expanding our capacity for innovation and bringing technology development closer to our European customers."

Scott Donnelly, senior vice president of GE's Global Research unit, said, "With the technology we are developing, we have the opportunity literally to reshape the way the world works." In healthcare, for instance, he said, "We can help transform healthcare from the 'see and treat' approach of today to the 'predict and prevent' model of the future." The European Center is key to that effort, Donnelly said, "because it increases our research capacity, gives us access to a new pool of technical talent and brings technology development closer to some of our key customers in these industries."

By next year, the European Global Research Center will be home to 150 scientists and engineers. N ani Beccalli, president of Europe, Middle East and Africa for GE, said the facility "will allow us to take advantage of the great intellectual capital and high education standards in Europe, particularly in the fields of science and technology."

Tackling MRI waiting lists in UK

Alliance Medical Ltd. (Upton nr Banbury, UK), which said it is the largest private provider of medical imaging services in Europe, has been awarded a five-year contract by the NHS to tackle England's magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) waiting lists. The company is expected to carry out 110,900 examinations in the first year and 131,200 examinations a year in the remaining four years. The contract calls for a total of 635,000 scans to be undertaken during its lifetime.

Alliance said the service was to begin before the end of July, with the program fully operational by the end of the year. It said the contract represents a 16% increase in scanning capacity in England and will make a "significant contribution" to non-emergency MRI scanning. In all, the company will make 12 mobile MRI units available to all 28 strategic NHS health authorities. It will book waiting-list patients for appointments at mobile scanners stationed at hospitals near them. The service will initially run six days a week, increasing to seven days a week and 12 hours a day by November.

Andy Dun, MD, medical director for Alliance Medical, said, "Since our inception 15 years ago, [we have] worked in partnership with dozens of NHS hospitals, providing them with a high-quality and cost-effective mobile MRI service. This contract builds on this relationship and expands the range of services to include patient booking and radiology reporting."

Alliance Medical said it is the leading provider of outsourced radiology imaging services in Europe, usually working in partnership with national governments and independent health providers to deliver a variety of managed radiology services through mobile or fixed-site solutions, with the UK, Italy and Spain as its main markets. It operates nearly 75 MRI units, of which almost 50 are mobile. It also operates about 25 other mobile units, including computed tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET), PET/CT; mammography; cardiac catheterization and lithotripsy units.

Cervical screening contract in Wales

TriPath Imaging (Burlington, North Carolina) said last month that, after "an extensive technology evaluation," Cervical Screening Wales (Cardiff), the national Welsh cervical screening organization, has signed a five-year contract to use TriPath's SurePath liquid-based Pap test exclusively for all women in its screening program. The SurePath solution will be supplied by Medical Solutions plc (Leeds, UK), a cancer and pathology services group that is TriPath's distributor in the UK.

Ray Swanson, senior vice president, commercial operations, at TriPath Imaging, said, "this . . . is the first contract signed in the UK since the planned conversion to liquid-based cytology [LBC] was approved by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence last October. Wales was a pilot site for the alternative LBC system, so this is an active switch to SurePath." He added that the Wales contract "places us in a strong position to win additional regional contracts in the UK."

UK eyes dental service reforms

Residents won't have to be down in the mouth much longer about the quality of dental service in the UK, as the NHS is about to undergo the biggest reform in that area since dental service began in 1948. Under plans unveiled by Health Minister John Reid last month, some 368 million in additional spending will be directed toward NHS dentistry over the next few years, including a goal of recruiting 1,000 additional dentists by October 2005. In a written House of Commons statement, Reid set out reforms for the way NHS dentists work and outlined plans to recruit more dentists. "we are . . . reforming the dental system to improve the long-term oral health of the nation." He said dental services will be "properly integrated with the rest of the NHS, providing better access to services and an improved patient experience," adding that the package of measures he announced "represents an unprecedented level of government commitment and investment in NHS dentistry."

Health Minister Rosie Winterton, who will lead the implementation of the the reforms, said, "Our plans will underpin a modernized, high-quality primary dental service provided through contracts between primary care trusts and dental practices. The new contract will put NHS dentistry on a solid footing by getting rid of bureaucracy and making sure new ways of working, designed to deliver the best oral health for patients, are well rewarded." She said the new contract with NHS dentists has been successfully piloted across the country, adding: "I'm confident that many dentists will want to take up the new contract because it removes them from a treatment-and-paperwork treadmill. We want to implement it and give all dentists the freedom from bureaucracy that the pilot sites have shown."

It is expected that some 650 of the additional dentists will be new recruits, either from home or abroad. A variety of recruiting efforts will be used, including getting existing dentists to their level of commitment to the NHS; attracting dentists to return to the NHS from career breaks, by offering better economic and working conditions; recruiting via an international effort already is under way, targeting dentists from the EU; and by speeding up the process for overseas dentists to register to work in the UK.

As part of the added investment in NHS dentistry, the government will spend 80m over four years to fund 170 extra undergraduate dental training places in England beginning in the fall of 2005, representing a 25% increase. By 2005-2006, NHS dentistry will receive extra funding of more than 250 million a year, an increase of 19.3% compared with 2003-2004. An extra 9 million will be provided to help dental practices prepare for the planned changes.

Dendrite acquires German firm

Dendrite International (Morristown, New Jersey) reported the completion of its acquisition of Schwarzeck-Verlag GmbH (Munich, Germany), a subsidiary of Deutscher Aerzte Verlag GmbH. Schwarzeck is a provider of physician databases, direct marketing services, and sample fulfillment services to pharmaceutical companies in Germany.

Dendrite said the acquisition accelerates its expansion in Europe and extends its interactive marketing solutions and services to the German pharmaceutical industry. It said the combination of the two firms creates "one of the most diversified German-based suppliers of pharmaceutical-specific services, data and technology to drug manufacturers in one of the world's largest pharmaceutical markets."

Prenatal screening assay approved

PerkinElmer (Boston, Massachusetts) said its DELFIA Xpress first-trimester prenatal screening assays have been approved by the Fetal Medicine Foundation (FMF; London), which will make them available in Europe for FMF-certified laboratories and FMF-certified clinicians for the detection of Down syndrome. The Fetal Medicine Foundation is a charity that promotes research and training in fetal medicine. Widely respected globally, it has established a standard for first-trimester screening that embraces the role of clinicians, laboratories and the assays that are used in such screening.

FMF promotes first-trimester screening for Down syndrome through nuchal translucency, or a combination of nuchal translucency and maternal serum biochemistry. Such a combination improves the detection of trisomy 21 in affected fetuses, with detection rates of are 85% to 90% for combined screening compared to 75% for ultrasound alone.

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