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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 June, 2005, 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK
Inquiry ordered into deadly bug
Stoke Mandeville Hospital
12 patients have died at Stoke Mandeville
The health secretary has ordered an independent inquiry into an outbreak of a virulent new strain of hospital bug in which 12 elderly patients have died.

Over 300 patients at Stoke Mandeville Hospital have contracted the new strain of Clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhoea, since 2003.

Patricia Hewitt said the inquiry would examine the Buckinghamshire hospital's infection-control measures.

The hospital says it has introduced new cleaning methods since the outbreak.

The number of cases of the bug, which can be treated with antibiotics, across the UK soared to 43,682 in 2004 - in the 1990s there were fewer than 1,000 cases each year.

The bacterium is naturally present in the intestine but kept under control by other bacteria
Antibiotics can kill some of these, allowing C.difficile to take hold
Overuse of antibiotics is linked to the infection's rise
C.difficile is not resistant to treatment, but some cases are difficult to treat
The strain seen at Stoke Mandeville hospital is related to one which has emerged in the US and Canada

Ms Hewitt, who had faced calls for action from MPs, said the inquiry would examine infection control measures at Stoke Mandeville, which is internationally renowned for its work on spinal injuries.

But she said the investigation would not begin until measures were in place to stop further spread of the infection.

"Once it's under control then, of course, there will be an independent inquiry so that any lessons that need to be learned can be learned, not only for that hospital but for the whole of the service."

Department of Health officials are in discussions with the Healthcare Commission about the terms of the inquiry.

Anna Walker, Healthcare Commission chief executive, said it was vital to learn the lessons from the outbreak to develop good practice about how to prevent future infections.

But she stressed that just because Stoke Mandeville had a problem it did not necessarily mean staff had behaved badly.

The hospital has set up an isolation ward and introduced new cleaning methods.

Ms Hewitt has already announced a consultation on stricter standards for infection control in hospitals, which will be published later in the year.

She said: "I have made it very plain already that I expect the leadership of our hospitals to focus on this issue of hospital infections and get their infection rates down to the absolute minimum."

Controlling hospital infection
21 Jan 02 |  Health

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