Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Thursday, 9 February 2006

Taking on the hospital superbug

By Hannah Goff
BBC News health reporter

MRSA hit squads are to be sent into hospital trusts to help them fight the potentially deadly infection.

MRSA is a bug resistant to the most commonly used antibiotics

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust does not have the worst record on tackling MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) - but its senior management are far from complacent.

The trust is about two-thirds of the way down the table for the worst MRSA rates, and between 2004 and 2005 had 66 cases of MRSA bloodstream infections - a similar figure to the previous year.

It is one of three NHS trusts which have volunteered to take part in a government scheme in the hope it might learn new tips in win the war against the superbug.

The trust, which covers a huge area of rural Northumberland from the River Tyne to the Scottish border, decided to put itself forward because of the particular way its services are configured.

With three district general hospitals and seven cottage hospitals serving a population of 500,000 people, many of whom are elderly or deprived - groups who are particularly vulnerable to the bug - the trust has many of the risk factors for MRSA.

It has been recognised nationally that two areas of concern for MRSA are specialist hospitals and district generals which serve a lot of older people.

And the Northumbria trust says it also sees MRSA cases in patients transferred from other specialist hospitals.


Trust medical director David Evans says: "We have a lot of frequent readmissions, elderly people coming in from nursing homes, and people moving around to different locations."

This makes the spread of any disease more likely, he says.

He added: "Hospitals that have things like big ear, nose and throat departments and big eye departments which treat a lot of young people - infection isn't so much of a problem."

"What we are dealing with is people who already carry this bug.

David Evans
David Evans say the trust is happy to learn new tips

"It may be as high as 30% of the population."

He says hospitals generally, do not have a handle on the problem of the "reservoir of infection" within the community.

Although the trust does take steps to try to prevent vulnerable cases from developing into the serious bloodstream infections which have to be monitored.

However, he insists the trust has always been aware of MRSA as a potential problem, and that it is taking all the steps to minimise infections.

'Happy to learn'

"I don't lay awake at night worrying about MRSA - we are about two thirds of the way down the ranking.

"We are already doing everything that we can - we have a good infection control team, we have all the training and all the alcohol cleaning gels.

"Our staff even carry a tube of gel on their belts so they can clean their hands even if they have to rush to an emergency.

"But if there is anything any one else can tell us - we are happy to learn."

The Department of Health specialist team is set to carry out a three month assessment of the trust's anti-MRSA measures in the spring.

MRSA 'superbugs'
24 Feb 05 |  J-M

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