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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 13:05 GMT
'Hit squads' to help tackle MRSA
Image of hospital cleaning
MRSA is linked to nearly 1,000 deaths each year
Hit squads are to be sent into the 20 NHS trusts with the worst record on tackling the superbug MRSA, the Department of Health has announced.

In all, half of trusts in England are making poor progress towards a target to cut MRSA infections by 50% by 2008.

Latest figures show 3,580 MRSA bloodstream infections in hospitals from April to September 2005, up 55 compared to the year before.

Health Minister Jane Kennedy said she was disappointed with the results.

To reinforce the efforts at trusts that are furthest from their targets I am setting up teams of specialists to work with them through 2006.
Jane Kennedy
Health minister

She said the worst performers would be helped by crack teams of specialists.

"To reinforce the efforts at trusts that are furthest from their targets I am setting up teams of specialists to work with them through 2006.

"These teams will begin first-wave work at Sandwell, Northumbria and Aintree NHS trusts who have volunteered for help, and then move on to around 17 more trusts through 2006," she said.

These first three trusts may not have the worst rate of MRSA infection but want assistance in tackling the problem, a Department of Health spokesman said.

However, Ms Kennedy stressed that MRSA only affected a tiny fraction of the 12 million patients admitted to NHS hospitals yearly, and that more cases were being reported because of better monitoring.

Action plans

From October 2004 to September 2005 there were 7,269 MRSA bloodstream infections.

The MRSA crack teams will have to diagnose what is preventing hospitals from reducing the number of MRSA cases and develop practical action plans.

They will also try to implement the plans and put in place management and support arrangements to bring about long-term improvement.

The department requires hospital trusts to report the number of MRSA bloodstream infections and publishes figures every six months.

It says the latest figures should be treated with care because individual trust figures may not necessarily reflect the actual number of serious infections acquired in each hospital because of the frequency of patients being transferred between trusts.

MRSA cases can be higher in some trusts because the undertake more risky procedures and carry out more invasive, high-risk specialist care.

But the Department of Health is keen to point out that those with the highest absolute rates are not necessarily the poorest performers in tackling the problem.

Health check

Jamie Rentoul head of strategy at the Healthcare Commission, which monitors health trusts' performance, said patients needed to be reassured that the NHS is doing all it can to minimise the risk of MRSA infections.

"To do this, we need to get to the bottom of why some trusts seem to be better at handling hospital acquired infections than others."

He added that trust's progress on tackling MRSA would be included in the annual health check

A report by the Patients Association in November 2005 suggested hospitals in England were making patchy progress towards controlling the hospital superbug.

It found that fewer than half of doctors are routinely using hand gels despite MRSA guidelines advising them to do so.

And the survey of 229 NHS staff working in infection control said there were worrying gaps in patient screening and the provision of cleaning services.

Q&A: MRSA 'superbugs'
24 Feb 05 |  Health

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