Call for ‘systematic’ hospital infection approach

The government’s focus on MRSA is contributing to rising numbers of other healthcare-associated infections, it has been claimed.

Derek Butler’s comments to came after it was suggested at a Lancet conference on infections that the government’s concentration on MRSA has actually had a negative impact on total infection numbers.

Medical microbiologist Michael Millar told the conference MRSA bloodstream infections make up just two per cent of all healthcare-associated infections and warned that E. coli rates almost compensate for MRSA.

“All you’ve done is replaced one problem with another one. There’s no evidence that overall we have fewer hospital infections or fewer people are dying,” the BBC quoted him as saying.

Mr Butler of MRSA Action confirmed the concerns. Former health secretary John Reid set a target in 2004 to achieve a 50 per cent cut in MRSA rates by 2008.

The Department of Health achieved this once the target date was extended by three months but at a cost, Mr Butler believes.

“The concentration on MRSA was good at the time, to focus people’s attention,” he said.

“However if we focus on MRSA and C. diff alone we will take our eye off the ball on other infections.”

The MRSA Action chairman called for the immediate introduction of screening for all those entering hospitals, better enforcement of existing hygiene techniques and a “more systematic approach” to the problem generally.

“They’re introducing a lot of initiatives, like the deep clean, which are never followed up. They never ascertained what impact it had,” he added.

“Infection prevention and control has to be on all or nothing affair. There can be no halfway house. They either go all the way or not bother.”

Mr Butler warned the focus on MRSA may be failing in any case. He accused some hospitals of having “lost control” of MRSA and predicted the overall number of cases would not reduce significantly this quarter.

The Department of Health said action to address any infections was a “challenge locally” which could be addressed through the government’s infection control strategy.

“C. diff and MRSA bloodstream infections have potentially very severe consequences for patients and both significantly affect patient confidence in the NHS,” a spokesperson said.

“We don’t currently have plans to set targets for other infections as it would be impossible to set a target for each and every infection.

“The NHS is tackling healthcare-associated infections with a wide range of measures including the implementation of MRSA screening, which will help to reduce infection rates.”