A leaked government memo claims the NHS may never hit its target of halving infections from the hospital superbug MRSA.
The target, set by former health secretary John Reid in 2004, was to cut MRSA cases by 50 per cent by 2008.
But the leaked document, which has been seen by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), said that target is unlikely to be met.
It said: ‘We have a three-year target to halve the number of MRSA bloodstream infections by April 2008.
‘Although the numbers are coming down, we are not on course to hit that target and there is some doubt about whether it is in fact achievable.
‘The opinion of infection experts is we will succeed in reducing MRSA bloodstream infections by a third rather than half – and that, even if we had a longer period of time, it may not be possible to get it down to half.’
The memo also said the infection Clostridium difficile (C diff) is ‘now endemic throughout the health service’.
The document said more people died from C diff than MRSA, and C diff was a ‘far bigger problem’.
Figures from the Health Protection Agency last year showed there were more than 64,000 cases of C diff reported in England in 2005 – a jump of more than 15 per cent on the previous year.
Meanwhile, cases of MRSA in England fell by 2.5 per cent to 3,517 in the six months to the end of March 2006.
A Department of Health spokesman said it deplored the leak.
He added: ‘This paper confirms that from the Prime Minister and Health Secretary downwards, the government is determined that the NHS should get on top of the problem of MRSA and other infections.
‘We have always been clear that infection control is a priority, which is why we have introduced a raft of measures to tackle all infections in our hospitals. Only last month we made an additional £50 million available for infection busting measures.’
However, he admitted that progress towards a 50 per cent reduction of MRSA ‘has been slower than anticipated’ and ‘faster progress is needed to meet the target’.