News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

UK hospital infection rates are down from 1993-4 rates

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 26 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:877
  1. Adrian O'Dowd
  1. London

    Rates of nosocomial infections in the United Kingdom are falling. Preliminary results of a survey from early 2006 of hospital infections in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and also the Republic of Ireland show a fall from 9% in 1993-4 to 7.6%. It also showed that of these countries Ireland had the lowest rate of infections.

    The third prevalence survey of healthcare associated infections in acute hospitals was carried out earlier this year by the Hospital Infection Society and the Infection Control Nurses Association. It was funded by the Department of Health.

    Preliminary results were presented last week at the society's international conference in Amsterdam.

    Between February and May this year infection control staff across the United Kingdom and Ireland surveyed 75 763 beds at 273 acute hospitals and found that 7.6% of adult patients had a healthcare associated infection. In Ireland the overall rate was 4.9%.

    This year's figures are a fall from the average prevalence of 9% in 37 111 patients surveyed for the previous national prevalence survey carried out in the UK and Ireland in 1993-4.

    The results back up indications from the UK Health Protection Agency—which carries out mandatory surveillance of healthcare associated infections—that the problem of hospital acquired infections is getting better, despite the public perception of the problem getting worse. That perception was fuelled by media attention and the sharp rise in healthcare associated infections at the start of this decade.

    The Health Protection Agency's Mandatory Surveillance of Healthcare Associated Infections Report 2006 ( found that, despite large annual increases in the number of infections with methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) up to 2003-4, there have been decreases in 2004-5 and 2005-6.

    From October 2005 to March 2006 3517 MRSA bacteraemia episodes were reported—a 1.5% decrease from the previous six months.

    The agency's report says: “Given the increasing quality assurance around the data, the levelling off after years of increases gives grounds for cautious optimism, although it is still too early to confidently assert that this marks a downturn in the trend.

    “Although the overall figures for England do not show much of a fall, some trusts have made a significant impact on their numbers.”

    The Department of Health has set a target of a 50% reduction by 2008 in the national total number of MRSA bloodstream infections, as measured against the 2003-4 baseline.

    Some infections continue to be a worry, however, and the number of cases of Clostridium difficile in hospitals in England rose sharply, says the agency's report, although it said the increase was partly due to better reporting.

    More detailed data on the Hospital Infection Society's survey will be made available in December.

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