Infection lottery ‘undermining patient choice’

Patients are unable to make a meaningful choice about which hospital they prefer without full information about infection rates, a health expert has said.

The choice will be introduced in the NHS constitution, to be brought into law in the health reform bill announced in last week’s Queen’s Speech.

Derek Butler of charity MRSA Action UK argued a “postcode lottery” exists over hospitals’ ability to keep infections under control.

He told the government relied on a small number of hospitals making impressive gains in its successful attempt to halve the number of infections from MRSA between 2004 and 2008.

Seventeen hospitals even saw the number of MRSA infections rise during this period, he said.

“What we’ve said to the government is: this is a postcode lottery,” Mr Butler told

“There is no evidence for people having any information that’s freely accessible to tell them what their local hospital trust infection rates are.

“People can’t make a choice if they don’t have all the information before them.”

Statistics are only available for MRSA infections, which only account for six per cent of all healthcare infections. The remainder come from other causes like surgical site infections, wound infections and those from catheters.

Mr Butler was critical of the draft NHS constitution’s commitment to “strive” to reduce avoidable healthcare infections.

He said a “duty” would have been a more appropriate commitment.

“We believe the NHS constitution is a step in the right direction – but it is only a small step,” Mr Butler added.

“What worries us is this government has brought in the constitution, yet still nine out of ten hospital trusts are failing on minimum hygiene standards under the hygiene code.

“Hospitals should not be attaining the minimum standard – they should be attaining higher than minimum standards as a moral obligation to the people of this country.”

The DoH said the government already makes information on serious infections like MRSA and C. difficilie publicly available via the Health Protection Agency.

The information is also available via NHS Choices, which currently allows members of the public to search for their local Trust’s MRSA figures and will do so for C. diff too in the future.

A spokesperson said: “We will also be launching a public awareness campaign next year, which aims to broaden people’s understanding of infections.”