Page last updated at 02:27 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

MRSA 'not the only threat to NHS'

Hospital cleaning
More thorough cleaning has helped bring MRSA infection rates down

The government has taken its "eye off the ball" on hospital infections other than MRSA and Clostridium difficile, a cross-party group of MPs says.

The Public Accounts Committee said setting targets in England for the two infections had led to a fall in cases.

But they warned there were signs other bugs, such as E. coli, were becoming more common and they called for better surveillance to curb the problem.

The Department of Health said it was already looking into the issue.

In England, MRSA rates are now a quarter of what they were at their peak in 2004, while C. difficile rates have fallen by nearly a third in the past year, following the introduction of targets.

E. coli
Surgical site infections
Urinary tract infections
Gastrointestinal infections
Skin infections

But the MPs said these only accounted for about a fifth of the total number of all infections seen in hospital.

While MRSA is the most high-profile bloodstream infection, E. coli is much more common and has actually increased by a third in the past four years, the report said.

It also highlighted surgical site infections, which were twice as common as bloodstream infections, and respiratory and urinary tract infections, which were three times as common.

MPs warned there was still no robust data on the extent and risks of at least 80% of bugs linked to hospital care.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said this report was the third time the committee had warned about the threat of other infections, adding it was "disappointing" the issue had yet to be addressed.

"The government has taken its eye off the ball regarding all other healthcare associated infections - which actually constitute most by far of all infections."

The report suggested hospitals start reporting all types of infection and that they look to curb the use of antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance

Professor Mark Enright, an infections expert at Imperial College London, said: "I can understand why the government focused on the infections it has, but now we are getting to grips with those it is time to look elsewhere.

"There are some strains of infections, such as E. coli, where we are seeing increasing levels of antibiotic resistance and that is concerning."

Nigel Edwards, of the NHS Confederation, which represents trusts, agreed it was time to review other infections.

But he added: "We would want to know the balance of costs and benefits from additional surveillance."

Katherine Murphy, director of the Patients Association, said: "This target culture is just like squeezing a balloon - if you squeeze one end it will bulge out at the other.

"But the problem for patients is that the balloon stays the same size.

"The problem of patient safety will stay the same huge size as long as it is regarded as an optional extra by some."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We recognise that surveillance of other infections could be improved."

He said experts were looking at what should be done and that the department expected to receive a report on the issue shortly.

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