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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 07:04 GMT
Hospital bug strategy is set out
Hand washing
Hand washing is thought to be the best way to tackle MRSA
Ministers are confident a raft of measures will help tackle potentially lethal hospital infections.

The infection strategy for England includes more infection control nurses, patient screening, deep cleaning and campaign to cut antibiotic use.

However much has been announced already, and experts said there was a long fight ahead to beat the bugs.

MRSA and Clostridium difficile rates are now both falling, but still cause thousands of deaths a year.

The strategy pulls together a raft of initiatives which the government has been introducing in recent months, as well as some new schemes.

When the subject of hospital infections crops up it is usually in reference to two - C. difficile and the so-called superbug, MRSA
MRSA is a potentially lethal bacterium that causes infections in humans. It is difficult to combat because it has developed a resistance to certain antibiotics
C. difficile is nearly 10 times more common than MRSA, although it is less deadly
It is a bacterium found in the gut of some adults and most children
C. difficile rarely causes problems, but certain antibiotics can disturb the normal balance, allowing the bug to thrive and causing severe diarrhoea and bowel inflammation

Ministers said by 2011 there would be an extra 270m a year available for infection control - although that is from an NHS budget which is growing by more than 5bn a year in the next three years.

NHS trusts will be able to use this money to appoint specialist nurses to combat infections and phase in MRSA screening from 2009.

Local health bosses and regulators will also be able to fine hospitals that are not doing enough to meet C. difficile targets.

And this is to be coupled with a nationwide campaign starting in February about the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections from the overuse of antibiotics.

Ministers also said that a month after the start of the campaign, hospitals should have finished the deep clean programme which was announced last year.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson praised the NHS for achieving what was considered impossible in the 1990s - overseeing a fall in MRSA rates.

Latest figures from the Health Protection Agency show that MRSA cases fell by 10% in the most recent three-month period - continuing a downward trend which started in September 2006.

The figures also showed C. difficile had fallen for the first time, with new cases down 7%.

Mr Johnson said there was "still more work to be done" but the government was confident it could continue to curb the threat from both MRSA and C. difficile.

He added: "Patients have my assurance that the government will not take its foot off the pedal."

He also insisted the government was on track to hit its target to halve MRSA rates by the end of March 2008. It has been widely assumed this goal will be missed.


Leading microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington, from Aberdeen University, said: "The measures being taken will all help, but one of the key things, especially for the screening, is that we have isolation wards available for infected patients.

"I don't think there is enough capacity for this at the moment and even though the rates look like they are coming down, there is still a long way to go.

"I think it will take another five years before we get our rates down to the best of the other European countries."

Stephen Rowling, a senior nurse at University College Hospital in London, is involved in a nationwide initiative to improve infection control in hospitals.

He told BBC Five Live that medical staff were only getting disinfection procedures right half the time.

"We've rolled this out in a number of hospitals now and the first stage of doing that is auditing wards and hospitals to see how good their practice is - and very typically practice is usually around 50% good and 50% not so good and our job is to improve the 50%," he said.

Jo Webber, from the NHS Confederation, which represents all trusts and hospitals, stressed different measures were required for different bugs.

For instance, alcohol rubs were effective against MRSA, but soap and water was the best way to reduce the threat of C. difficile.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley agreed isolation facilities were key, and said all the government had provided was "years of broken promises".

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "Delivery on these promises will be key. Will the money actually be used for anti-infection measures, such as recruitment of new staff?"

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