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NHS could fail MRSA targets

A confidential internal memo has revealed that the NHS could fail to reach its target of reducing the hospital MRSA infections by half by April 2008

A confidential internal memo has revealed that the NHS could fail to reach its target of reducing the hospital MRSA infections by half by April 2008.

The memo, which was obtained by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), shows that the NHS' own control experts have admitted that the target set by then health secretary John Reid in 2004 may be unattainable. At least 5,000 hospital deaths a year in England and Wales are caused by MRSA or other infections.

The Department of Health (DoH) has insisted, however, that the memo simply confirms the government's determination to "get on top of the problem of MRSA and other infections".

The memo states that the whole of the NHS will be 27 per cent off from meeting the 2004 target by spring 2008, adding: "The opinion of DoH infection experts is that we will succeed in reducing MRSA blood stream infections by a third, rather than a half - and that even if we had a longer period of time, it may not be possible to get down to a half."

The memo continues by adding that Clostridium difficile was now regarded as "endemic" in Britain's hospitals and was a bigger concern than MRSA itself, with health minister Andy Burnham planning to ask the Prime Minister to bring cleaning services back in-house. It also offered six possible courses of action to take when news of the missed target breaks, six of which include missing, dropping or delaying the aim.

A DoH spokesperson countered the document's contents by saying: "We have always been clear that infection control is a priority, which is why we have introduced a raft of measures to tackle all infections in our hospitals. Only last month we made an additional GBP 50 million (USD 98 million/ EUR 75.9 million) available for infection-busting measures."

He admitted that progress toward a 50 per cent reduction of MRSA "has been slower than anticipated" but said the government remained "committed to delivering this target".

The Wellcome Trust has provided GBP 3.5 million (USD 6.9 million/ EUR 5.3 million) to develop new compounds to fight MRSA and Clostridium difficile. Researchers hope a new treatment that prevents the bacteria from dividing and multiplying can be fast-tracked into clinical evaluation by 2009.

16th January 2007

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