Clostridium difficile rates still rising

The number of infections caused by Clostridium difficile are continuing to rise.

Graham Tanner, chairman of National Concern for Healthcare Infections, said: “It should be remembered that over four years, more than 20,000 patients have suffered an MRSA infection, and in excess of 200,000 contracted C. difficile.”

In 2007-08 the number of MRSA cases fell to 4,438 – 588 above the target, Health Protection Agency data show. However, in the first quarter of this year a trend of falls in C. difficile bloodstream infections was reversed, with a 6 per cent rise: there were 10,586 cases of C. difficile blood infections in patients aged 65 and over.

A total of 966 cases of MRSA were reported – an 11 per cent drop on the previous quarter and an average of 322 cases a month. In 2004 John Reid, as the Health Secretary, said that infections of methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus should be cut to a monthly average of 321. At the time that was said to be unachievable. Even within the Department of Health, leaked documents last year showed there was serious concern it would not be met.

But the recent fall in cases suggests that high-profile initiatives such as the “deep clean” of all hospitals and introduction of a mandatory “hygiene code” may have had the desired effect.

MRSA and C. difficile are carried by some healthy people, but the bacteria can cause illness when they grow unchecked, elderly hospital patients being particularly at risk. Annual figures showed a decline for both infections.

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, described the decreases as a remarkable achievement.

“Our strategy is clearly having an impact, with our challenging target now within touching distance, but this is not an issue we can be complacent about and we will continue to focus our efforts on reducing infections further,” he said.

Andrew Lansley, the Conservative Shadow Health Secretary, said that the Government would not have met its MRSA target had it measured the yearly rates to March.

To achieve half of the 7,700 MRSA infections in 2003-04, the NHS would have had to limit rates to just 3,850 cases this financial year, he said.

“Every case of a hospital infection is one too many, but in four years Labour hasn’t even been able to halve MRSA rates, he said. “They have only got round to admitting they have missed the target by moving the goalposts. This shows just how much they’ve dithered and delayed over tackling hospital infections.”

Murray Devine, Safety Advisor for the Healthcare Commission, the NHS regulator, added: “This is great news for patients. There’s no question that there has been a very significant turn around, but the challenge isn’t over. This improvement has got to be sustained and infection rates brought down further.”


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