Page last updated at 14:35 GMT, Thursday, 18 September 2008 15:35 UK

Target to halve MRSA cases is met

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How one hospital in Harrogate is beating MRSA

A target to halve MRSA infections in England has been hit, figures show.

There were 836 cases in April to June, a 36% drop on the similar period of 2007, with a 57% reduction since 2004, the Health Protection Agency said.

In an open letter, Prime Minister Gordon Brown thanked NHS staff for the "tremendous achievement".

But the Tories accused the government of "moving the goalposts" in order to meet the target and using "gimmicks" to tackle healthcare infections.

In April to June 2008 there were 836 cases reported - a 14% decrease on the previous quarter and a 36% decrease from the corresponding quarter of 2007.

The next challenge for the NHS will be to ensure that the downward trend continues and that we move to a position of zero tolerance
Professor Peter Borriello, HPA

Figures from January to March this year suggested the government was on course to hit the target set by John Reid in 2004.

In 2003-04 there was an average 1,925 MRSA cases per quarter and for the past couple of years the figures have been steadily falling.

'Zero tolerance'

Professor Peter Borriello, director of the HPA Centre for Infections, said the falls in MRSA rates show the "huge efforts" being made by NHS staff to tackle healthcare associated infections.

"The next challenge for the NHS will be to ensure that the downward trend continues and that we move to a position of zero tolerance.

"Of course, not all cases are preventable but if the fight against healthcare associated infections is to be won, it is vital that the measures which have achieved this significant success remain in place."

When the March 2008 target was set, it was widely seen as unachievable.

Even within the Department of Health, leaked documents last year showed there was serious concern it would be missed.

And some thought the target should have been measured in the year leading up to March 2008.

Health minister Alan Johnson said: "Our strategy for tackling infection is clearly delivering results and the NHS continues to work hard to ensure hospitals are clean and safe for patients.

"But we are certainly not complacent and we won't stop here."

Infections like this are not easy to control and they have had a real hold on hospitals in this country
Anna Walker, Healthcare Commission

Shadow health minister Andrew Lansley, said it was a "disgrace" that there were over 800 cases of MRSA in just three months.

And he criticised the government for publishing the positive data to coincide with the Labour Party conference.

"Less favourable" figures on Clostridium difficile infections are due to be published in October, he said.

"They have only met their MRSA target by moving the goalposts and that the best they could come up with to tackle this massive problem have been gimmicks like Gordon Brown's deep cleaning programme."

Variation

Anna Walker, the chief executive at the Healthcare Commission said called a figures a "big success" in the war against MRSA.

"Infections like this are not easy to control and they have had a real hold on hospitals in this country."

But she added: "It is important to remember that our work still shows variations in the performance of trusts.

"There are some trusts that don't have all the necessary systems in place to fight outbreaks if they do occur and some are falling far short of targets to reduce rates of MRSA."

Graham Tanner, from the National Concern for Healthcare Infections charity welcomed the figures but said some NHS Trusts were still struggling to reduce MRSA rates.

"The need for vigilance remains and complacency must not be allowed to develop."

Elsewhere in the UK, rates of MRSA are falling in Scotland and Northern Ireland and have remained steady in Wales.


SEE ALSO
Stopping MRSA at the front door
14 Jun 08 |  Health

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