Calls to keep superbug at bayBMA says one in ten patients get bug in hospital

21 February 2006

About one in ten patients get an infection during their stay in hospital, a new report claims.

Doctors' body the British Medical Association (BMA), which published the report, is calling for medical staff, patients and hospital visitors to clean their hands, as the most effective way of keeping superbugs in check.

The report says that, in England, 300,000 people a year get an infection while in hospital and, at any given time, about 9 per cent of hospital patients are infected with a bug acquired during their stay. The National Audit Office estimates that such bugs contribute to 5,000 deaths in the UK each year, and cost the NHS up to GBP 1 billion.

MRSA hazard

The BMA report also highlights the rise in recent years in cases of methicillin-resistant staphyloccus aureus (MRSA), which can cause pneumonia and meningitis. MRSA is a particular hazard to people who are already ill, or those who have a catheter or drip, as these are paths into the body for bugs.

According to the latest figures, the UK has one of the worst rates of MRSA infection in Europe - as highlighted in Which? last September.

The BMA report cites several reasons for the rise in the number of hospital-acquired infections. These include the use of catheters, tubes and feeding lines, which 'breach the body's natural defences'.

Concern over hygiene

The authors also blame a cut in the total number of hospital beds, and faster turnaround of patients 'to meet performance targets'. Lastly, they point to hygiene standards.

The BMA says:'Poor standards of hygiene in healthcare settings contribute to the spread... There has been a great deal of concern regarding falling standards in hospital cleanliness and the introduction of compulsory tendering of cleaning contracts.

'The number of cleaners in the NHS fell over the last 20 years from 100,000 to a low of 55,000 in 2003-04.'

Top priority

The BMA wants more hand-washing in hospital, but it also calls on medical staff not to wear ties, as they can carry bugs from one patient to another.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said:'Tackling MRSA and other healthcare associated infections is a top priority for this government. There are now infection control teams in every trust and 3,000 matrons in post. All acute trusts have implemented improved hand-hygiene procedures following the Clean Your Hands campaign and as the BMA says, it is vital that doctors and all other staff use good hand hygiene...

'The NHS is...treating more patients and cutting waiting lists to their lowest ever. While this makes infection control a challenge, some of the best performing hospitals in the NHS are managing to hit their waiting-list targets whilst reducing infection rates. We are now legislating (with the Health Bill) to put a hygiene code and a tougher inspection regime into law, to drive up standards of hygiene and infection control, with ultimate sanctions for trusts who fail to deliver.'