New window on infections

THE government's "myhospitals" website is slowly evolving into a useful comparative tool to help guide the decisions and choices of health consumers.

At its basic level the site offers a snapshot of facilities and services offered by various public and private hospitals.

For about a year it has provided waiting list information for elective procedures in public hospitals and yesterday it added details of golden staph infection rates - again only for public hospitals.

The first thing that Hunter people who avail themselves of this information will discover is that two hospitals, the Calvary Mater and Belmont, have reported rates of this type of infection above the national benchmark.

The benchmark rate has been set at 2 cases of infection in every 10,000 patient-days. Belmont Hospital reported 2.54 cases and the Calvary Mater has topped that with 3.4 cases.

By comparison, John Hunter Hospital reported 1.92 infections and Maitland 1.23.

Of these hospitals, John Hunter does by far the most surgery, recording more than 11,200 procedures, well ahead of Maitland's 2100 and about 1150 at each of Belmont and Calvary Mater.

The first observation to make about the infection rates is that they ought to be approached with caution. Infection rate records, like waiting list figures, can be manipulated. And even if they aren't manipulated, variations may be due to factors that are not immediately apparent.

A cancer hospital, for example, might treat more people with compromised immune systems.

It is also worth noting that only some infections caused by one particular kind of bacterium are being recorded. This might be a fair indicator of the efficacy of infection control procedures in a hospital, but it doesn't really give a complete picture of the implications for patients.

Still, even allowing for possible confounding factors, an infection rate higher than the national benchmark must be a cause for concern. It is well-recognised and acknowledged that staff hygiene and adherence to proper aseptic protocols are the biggest factors in keeping rates low.

If the website causes hospitals to take more care, rather than looking for ways to manipulate the statistics, it will have done a useful service.

Cinema pioneers

ONE way or another, longtime Newcastle cinema operators Margaret and Theo Goumas gave the city plenty of entertainment during their years in business.

Mrs Goumas, a former member of Newcastle City Council, was never afraid of controversy, as her famous stand against breastfeeding in her cinema demonstrated.

The couple arrived in Newcastle in the 1960s to operate the Roma Theatre, charting a string of cinema firsts in the years that followed. In more recent times they championed quality films at the Showcase cinema - an enterprise brought to an untimely end by a controversial decree from would-be city redeveloper GPT, which alleged the building failed fire standards.

These pioneers of Novocastrian cinema deserve their latest accolade.

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