A new survey suggests that one in ten patients pick up secondary infection like MRSA at the hospitals in Scotland while being treated. The study found 9.5 per cent of people in acute hospitals had a healthcare associated infection (HAI) and it cost the health service £183m a year.
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said it was the most comprehensive study ever undertaken into the extent of infections in Scotland's hospitals. Investigators from Health Protection Scotland (HPS) visited every adult acute hospital, and some smaller ones, in Scotland. They recorded how many patients were being treated on the day and how many had developed infections while there. It recorded the presence of all types of infections on the day of the survey. It found that prevalence of HAI was 9.5% in acute hospitals and 7.3% in community hospitals.
Healthcare associated infections (HAIs) can range from minor skin and eye problems to super bugs such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. It causes severe diarrhoea and illness and in the most serious cases can lead to death.
Nicola Sturgeon has promised tougher action to end the scandal of patients falling ill in the place they go to recover. She said infections are most prevalent in elderly, medical and surgical wards.
Experts and campaigners last night said that HAIs continued to be a problem because of poor hygiene in hospitals and a lack of isolation facilities.
Professor Hugh Pennington, Scotland's leading microbiologist, said more attention was also needed to ensure that only patients who needed antibiotics were receiving them to help tackle drug resistance.
Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to step up efforts to combat HAI. She plans to introduce an MRSA screening programme for those going into hospital. It would also target skin and soft tissue infections, reducing blood stream infections and would try and use additional data to tackle infection rates in medical and elderly wards.
The survey found almost all of the infections of the super bug clostridium difficile were found in elderly and medical wards
She said if infections were cut by 30 per cent, the NHS could save £55 million a year. Ms Sturgeon said this money could pay for an extra 8,000 patients to be treated.
Willie Duffy, from health union Unison, said that the quality of cleaning in hospitals had declined since the introduction of competitive tendering of hospital cleaning in the 1980s and the continuing outsourcing of cleaning at PFI hospitals.
In one of his first acts as Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson has committed £50m of additional funds to tackle healthcare-associated infections at the same time has doubling the size of the Department of Health's (DH) Infection Improvement Team.
Prof Curtis Gemmell, a national adviser on MRSA and hospital infections, said the problem had been made worse by improper use of antibiotics.
He said: "The organism has developed resistance to many of the antibiotics we use in hospital."