Target culture ‘leads to more hospital infections’

By Doireann Ronayne

The NHS still has no idea of the levels of infection in hospitals in Britain because it is too obsessed with hitting targets, an influential committee of MPs has found.

The Committee of Public Accounts accused the NHS of spending so much time addressing MRSA and Clostridium difficile (C. diff) that it lost track of other potentially deadly hospital infections.

“The department has achieved significant reductions in MRSA bloodstream and Clostridium difficile infections, for which it set national targets,” said Edward Leigh, chair of the committee.

“But, in so doing, it has taken its eye off the ball regarding all other healthcare associated infections.

“This is the third time that this Committee has reported on the subject and it is disappointing that the Department of Health still has not taken on board a number of key recommendations.”

MPs suggested the government’s predilection for setting targets means significant progress has been made only in relation to those infections with national reduction targets, such as MRSA bloodstream and C. diff.

A haphazard approach to mandatory national surveillance means there is still no grip on hospital acquired surgical site infections, pneumonias, skin and urinary tract infections, the committee found.

MPs twice requested the Department of Health (DoH) introduce effective monitoring which will potentially save lives.

The latest report has revealed that there is still no robust comparable data on the extent and risks of at least 80 per cent of healthcare associated infections.

One of the greatest threats to controlling infection is patients’ growing resistance to antibiotics.

Mr Leigh said: “The Department has chosen to ignore yet another recommendation in our previous report: that there should be a national electronic prescribing system.”

The absence of a system means hospitals are not able to monitor whether antibiotics are being used effectively, making patients more susceptible to infection.

NHS trusts argue high bed occupancy and the four-hour A&E target are barriers to further improvement and compromise good infection prevention and control.

Each year the NHS spends over £1 billion combating healthcare associated infections, which affect some 300,000 patients in England.

Healthcare infections are those passed on to patients by healthcare workers. Caused by micro-organisms on the skin or body, they only become a problem when the organisms have an opportunity to breach the body’s natural defences through an open or via intravenous devices.