Sometimes a single object can express a lot about a contemporary issue, and where it fits into shifting ideas about health and personal responsibility. Take the PatientPak, launched in the UK in September 2008. The kit contains antimicrobial products claiming to kill 99.99% of hospital germs including Novovirus and E coli and the ‘superbug’ MRSA. Bought via the internet or in high street shops, the manufacturers advertise their product as an ‘ideal gift’ for people going into hospital.
The issue of hospital cleanliness seems to be one that just won’t go away, reappearing in the media time and time again. In a UK government debate in July 2008 it was reported that approximately 9% of in-patients were affected by hospital acquired infections, or HAIs, causing or contributing towards 20,000 deaths a year as well as 300,000 non-fatal cases.
In 2004, NHS trusts were set a target to reduce MRSA by 50% and figures show that cases are slowly dropping but HAIs still remain an issue fixed in the public’s mind. PatientPak is one response to public concern over hygiene in hospitals. For the manufacturers, the product is a way for patients to take control over their hospital stay and decrease both their risk of acquiring and their fear of HAIs.
For some in the medical profession, products such as these not only increase patient anxiety, but also imply that maintaining cleanliness in hospitals has become the patient’s responsibility. They are also concerned that claims about the ‘dangers’ of a hospital visit might make vulnerable patients more afraid to seek the health care they need, or that patients make decisions based on fear, rather than evidence.
For us in the Museum, collecting the product doesn’t mean we fall on one side of the debate or the other. Objects like this help us tell stories about health consumerism, the history of hospital care, and of course the role of the media in debates surrounding health.