Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 16:11 UK

Hospital bug rate at record low

Clostridium difficile
Clostridium difficile rates are down 42% on the same period last year

Rates of infection from Clostridium difficile and MRSA in Scotland have been cut, figures have shown.

Infections of elderly people caused by C. diff have fallen to a record low, according to the quarterly Health Protection Scotland report.

And cases of illness caused by the drug-resistant so-called superbug, MRSA have also dropped.

The decreases were welcomed by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, but she warned against complacency.

C. diff rates have fallen 42% compared with the same period last year, while MRSA rates are down 25%.

The latest figures show there were 996 new cases of C. diff in people over 65 between April and June, compared with 1,152 in the previous quarter.

There were also 311 cases in people aged 15-64, but this was the first time statistics for this age group had been collected and officials said the figure should be treated with "caution".

Eleanor Bradford
Eleanor Bradford, Health correspondent

Today's figures showing record lows in clostridium difficile and MRSA are good news, but we're not out of the woods yet.

Look a bit closer and you see that today's figures only give us part of the picture. C. difficile infections have only been counted since 2003, by which time we knew we had a problem.

We are also only comparing the figures for C.diff in the elderly. We've only just started counting C.diff amongst the under-65's. There were 311 cases between April and June alone.

When it comes to MRSA there's more evidence of an established decline - but only in MRSA infections in the blood. We're not counting wound infections or the worrying emergency of MRSA in the community.

If we're doing the right things we should see a fall in C.diff and MRSA across the board.

Good hygiene is important, but our over-use of antibiotics caused this problem in the first place and that's what we need to tackle to have any hope of bringing it under control.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said that within the new age group being monitored for C. diff, the overwhelming majority of cases recorded were in the upper end of the age range.

The equivalent quarter of last year saw 1,732 cases of C diff in the over 65s.

Meanwhile cases of MRSA fell from 171 in the first quarter to 145 in the second.

A spokeswoman said MRSA figures have been monitored since the start of 2003, while C. diff has only been centrally monitored since the last quarter of 2006.

Ms Sturgeon said: "I have made tackling hospital infections a top priority and I am encouraged that today's figures show our strenuous efforts appear to be reaping rewards.

"We are confident that we now have the right initiatives in place and the figures back this up. We are seeing significant and sustained reductions in infections which is good news for patients throughout Scotland."

Various efforts have been made to cut infection rates with a national MRSA screening programme, more careful prescribing of antibiotics and reminders for people to wash their hands.

Ms Sturgeon added: "However, there is no room for complacency. I want us to continue this excellent progress as we drive to eliminate all avoidable infections from our hospitals."

But Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman Cathy Jamieson said rates of C. diff in NHS Grampian, NHS Borders and NHS Orkney are rising.

She said: "I am very concerned that the rate of C. difficile cases is still rising in some parts of Scotland.

"Whilst NHS staff deserve credit for the overall reduction shown by today's figures there are huge regional variations in the performance of Scottish hospitals and there is absolutely no room for complacency."

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