Hospital superbugs battle stalling, doctors fear

Picture: Greg Macvean
Picture: Greg Macvean
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A STEADY decline in hospital infections including C diff and MRSA has stalled, prompting calls for new ways to combat bugs.

Health Protection Scotland found that previous significant drops in so-called healthcare-associated infection (HAI) rates were not repeated last year.

Over the last year, the rate only dropped by 2 per cent, HPS said in its annual report on infections.

The report follows a 78 per cent reduction in the incidence of Clostridium difficile (C diff) in patients over 65 since 2007, and a 51 per cent reduction in patients aged 15 to 64 since 2009.

Similar levelling off was found in the bacterial infection which includes the antibiotic-resistant MRSA strain, the report found.

Professor Jacqui Reilly, a lead consultant in HAI, said: “What this report shows is that the work which has been done throughout the NHS in Scotland in recent years has been very successful in reducing HAI and making care safer for patients.

“While HAI is still generally decreasing, the levelling trend shown this year in HAI incidence means that our priority now should be to build on past progress and continue to find new and innovative ways to drive HAI down even further.

“With more than 50,000 HAI in acute care in Scotland each year, there remains an opportunity for further preventative measures to protect patients in Scotland.”

Incidence rates following operations, known as surgical site infections (SSI), account for 18.6 per cent of inpatient HAI in Scotland.

SSI rates following hip arthroplasty procedures and Caesarean section procedures – two of the most common operations – have decreased in 2012, though not significantly when compared with 2011, with an incidence of 0.7 per cent and 2 per cent respectively in 2012.

Prof Reilly added: “We are determined to continue to reduce rates of HAI in Scotland and maximise opportunities for safe care for every patient, every time, everywhere in healthcare.”

The Scottish Government has said it will develop new strategies to minimise the risk to patients of acquiring a preventable infection while in hospital.

However, Jim Hume, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said the government has to stop the trend rolling into reverse.

“It is disappointing that progress in reducing healthcare-associated infections seems to have ground to a halt in recent years,” he said.

The Scottish Government has previously said its £30 million campaign to reduce hospital- acquired infections in recent years has paid off.

The campaign included a drive to encourage more frequent handwashing, recruiting extra cleaning staff and upgrading NHS staff uniforms.

Alex Neil, Scotland’s health secretary, said along with the improvements in battling MRSA and C diff, the service also had to focus on other infections such as E coli.

“We are working to develop new and innovative strategies to ensure that we minimise the risk to patients of acquiring a preventable infection whilst receiving healthcare,” he said.