16 July 2004
NHS trusts have made only limited progress in reducing hospital-acquired infections over the past four years, despite the high profile given to the issue, government auditors have said.
In a follow-up report to its 2000 analysis of hospital-acquired infections, the National Audit Office concluded that NHS trusts had still not properly grasped the problem. Lack of evidence on the impact of different interventions was also impeding change.
Karen Taylor, who led the report team, said; 'There have been improvements, but it's not been as thorough as we'd hoped.'
There has been no change to the NAO's 2000 calculation that hospital infections were costing the NHS £1bn a year and accounted for at least 5,000 deaths. Few trusts have attempted to calculate their own costs or refine the cost estimate supplied by the NAO four years ago.
Latest results from the Department of Health's mandatory surveillance scheme show that methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections increased by 3.6% in England over the past year.
According to the NAO, MRSA now accounts for 43.9% of all UK staphylococcus aureus infections – the worst rate in Europe.
The report, published on July 14, called for infection control to occupy a more central place in hospital management. Infection control teams should be consulted in contract tendering procedures for new buildings, and cleaning, laundry and catering services.
Taylor said that, while trusts had appointed an infection-control director, most held this post in addition to their other duties. She added that managers were reluctant to close wards, even though it was the best way to limit an infection outbreak.
Health Secretary John Reid said: 'The NAO report is an important reminder that everyone in the NHS needs to keep infection control at the top of their agenda. The plans I set out earlier this week will help us to bring all hospitals up to the level of the best.'
Anti-infection measures unveiled by Reid ahead of the NAO report will require every hospital to publish its infection rates. Patients are also being encouraged to report dirt to cleaning managers and question doctors and nurses about hand washing.
He added: 'Patients will have a choice of hospitals by the end of the year and [infection control] could become a factor in their decision.'