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BBC Health Correspondent Karen Allen
"Better standards of hygiene are needed"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 18 January, 2000, 12:43 GMT
Hospital infections cost 1bn a year

Staphylococcus aureus Staphylococcus aureus causes infection (picture:Pfizer)

Infections acquired by one in ten patients whilst they are in hospital cost the health sector in England almost 1bn each year, according to research.

If we can reduce the burden of hospital infection we can free up some of the resources for others who require treatment
Lynda Taylor, Public Health Laboratory Service
The experts behind the study say that if the level of hospital infection could be reduced, resources could be freed up for treating other patients.

The Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) have analysed the social and economic burden of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs).

The research shows that on average a patient with a HAI:

  • Spends 2.5 times longer in hospital than if they had not contracted an HAI

  • Costs almost 3,000 more to treat

  • Can often require additional treatment for their infection after they have left hospital

  • Suffers additional distress and illness, which is shared by their family and those who have to care for them once they have left hospital

Researcher Lynda Taylor, of the PHLS, said: "HAIs have always been an issue, but the current situation is to some extent a consequence of modern treatments.

"These treatments thankfully help vulnerable patients survive their illnesses, when previously they could not have been treated at all.

"However, these vulnerable patients can often be more susceptible to infection.

"This may be because of their underlying illness or their treatments, for example, catheters inserted into their veins or bladders.

"These factors present a greater opportunity for infections to get a foothold."

Ms Taylor said some hospital infections can be prevented.

Resources needed

Patient Good hygiene is essential in hospitals
She called for improved infection control procedures, including guidelines for preventing the spread of disease, and for resources to be made available to spread good practice.

She said: "If we can reduce the burden of hospital infection we can free up some of the resources for others who require treatment.

"With the investment of time, effort and resources now, there are clearly significant savings to be made which can be fed back into the treatment and care of others."

The Department of Health has issued new standards for the control of infections in acute NHS trusts.

There are also a number of professional groups, such as the Handwashing Liaison Group, which promotes the importance of health staff washing their hands between contact with patients.

The most common HAIs are urinary tract infections and infections at the site of surgical wounds. Some patients are unfortunate enough to pick up multiple infections.

One of the most severe, albeit rare, HAIs is a bloodstream infection caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (S.aureus).

S. aureus typically enters patients through surgical wounds and intravenous line sites, and can be passed very easily from person to person.

Strains of the bacteria are resistant to the commonly-used antibiotic methicilin. A US study found that patients infected with MRSA (methicilin-resistant S. aureus) had to stay in hospital three times longer than those who were not infected.

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