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MRSA Action UK health warning on misleading headlines as Department of Health proclaim hospitals are MRSA-free

MRSA Action UK health warning on misleading headlines as Department of Health proclaim hospitals are MRSA-free

Having seen and read the latest headline and Press Release from the Department of Health “MRSA in the NHS at a record low - 25 acute Trusts are MRSA-free for more than a year”, we believe that the headline is somewhat disingenuous in its announcement as it implies that the Trusts have been totally MRSA-free.

Read the small print however, and it states that these Trusts have been MRSA bloodstream infection-free for over a year. Whilst MRSA Action UK applauds these Trusts and the staff for achieving this landmark, we would like to see far more clarity in respect to reporting as all bloodstream infections only account for a very small proportion of at around 6-7%, with MRSA bacteraemias accounting for 21% (Report for the National Audit Office – Trends in rates of healthcare associated infection in England 2004-2008, Health Protection Agency)

What has not been stated is that the majority of MRSA infections include (to name but a few) pneumonias, skin, surgical site, respiratory and catheter associated urinary tract infections, which can be as debilitating and often as life threatening. In fact you would find it difficult to assess just how many infections there were, as these are not as openly reported as the bloodstream infections, so it would be difficult to proclaim the headline that the Department of Health has heralded as being accurate – they cannot say with any certainty that any hospital is completely “MRSA-free”.

MRSA Action UK has seen the improvements in reducing MRSA bloodstream infections from the staggeringly high numbers of 7,724 in 2005, averaging 643 per month to the new announced average of 97 per month and the staff in the NHS have worked very hard to achieve this reduction. There are some, however, within the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency who would like to now reduce the emphasis by reviewing the screening policy introduced by the last Labour Government and to also review the way the data on infections is released which was introduced by the present Government. Both of these reviews would, we believe, have a major detrimental impact on the fight to reduce to the irreducible minimum the number of people affected by MRSA and other avoidable healthcare infections.

In the latest press release from the Department of Health the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has said that “I have been calling for a zero-tolerance approach to avoidable healthcare associated infections since 2004. “What’s more, 25 trusts have been MRSA-free for more than a year, proving that with tough infection control measures we can eradicate avoidable infections from the NHS altogether”.

“This sustained pattern of falling infections across the health service is good news. However, the variation between the very best in the country and the very worst is still unacceptably high. So while progress has been made, we must do better to shrink this gap and improve standards for all.”

I would ask the Health Secretary, how would he reduce and shrink the gap between the best and the worst when some in the Health Protection Agency would like to remove those hospitals with the very lowest rates of infections from the published figures. Saying that Infection Control Teams state that it is not a sensible use of their time and unscientific or that the time to do this is not insignificant and the advantages have not been debated. How would we then know what the gap is between the best and the worst?

The national screening policy already under review by the NOW Team is looking at the policy from the Department of Health to see if it is cost effective. MRSA Action UK has not been invited to participate with this study, in spite of the fact that the Department of Health say they recognised our organisation had much to offer and that in hindsight we should have been a part of this.

We must not lose sight of the fact that while the latest MRSA bloodstream monthly figures are a huge improvement on those in 2005. They still represent an infection rate for MRSA of some 15%, which is 9 times higher than it was in 1990 when it stood at just 1.7% and some 15 to 20 times higher than our Northern Scandinavian partners.

A more sobering thought is that those 25 Trusts with zero MRSA bloodstream infections for more than a year only represent 15% of all hospital trusts in England so therefore there is still much more to be done and not a time for us to be relaxing the fight against these infections. There is no room for complacency when it comes to patients’ lives.

Derek Butler
MRSA Action UK
email: derek.butler@mrsaactionuk.net
telephone: 07762 741114

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