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Experts fear MRSA rise with H1N1 return

Hospitals urged to discharge appropriate MRSA patients to prevent a rise in MRSA infection rates with the second wave of swine flu

An influential group of doctors, scientists and patient representatives has written to all NHS hospitals calling for the early discharge of appropriate MRSA patients to prevent a rise in MRSA infection rates with the second wave of swine flu. The call follows research that indicates MRSA rates can be as much as 40 per cent above average when a hospital's bed occupancy rate exceeds 90 per cent. 

In the letter to hospitals, the MRSA Working Group, together with National Concern for Healthcare Infection (NCHI) and the Patients Association, outlined methods to help ensure sufficient critical care beds are available this winter through identifying MRSA patients and discharging them early, as supported by Department of Health recommendations. Studies have shown that providing IV treatment at home or switching eligible patients to oral antibiotics could free-up scarce hospital beds by enabling patients who are well enough to do so to go home earlier.

The NHS is also preparing for higher than normal levels of staff sickness at the height of the pandemic. Reduced staffing levels and reliance on temporary staff could contribute to increased levels of healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs).

Dr Matthew Dryden, consultant microbiologist at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital and general secretary of the British Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, said: "When faced with a difficult winter, it is vital that hospitals ensure sufficient beds are available. Treating patients with infections such as MRSA at home can help by reducing their length of stay in hospital, freeing up much needed beds and easing pressure on staff and resources. It also helps to improve a patient's quality of life."

Katherine Murphy of The Patients Association, who co-signed the letter, commented: "There is a real risk that swine flu patients may block isolation beds resulting in patients with healthcare infections such as MRSA being treated on general wards. This, coupled with a highly pressured and reduced workforce, could increase the risk of infections such as MRSA spreading to other vulnerable patients and throughout the hospital."

20th October 2009

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