Infection Prevention is Everyone's Job

Almost one in 10 patients in Scotland's main hospitals are carrying a secondary infection such as MRSA, according to new figures. The study found hospital associated infections (HAI) in acute hospitals 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. She said infections are most prevalent in elderly, medical and surgical wards.

The survey carried out by Health Protection Scotland, included every patient in all of Scotland's acute hospitals and in a sample of community hospitals. 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.

Ms. Sturgeon said the infection rates were a serious problem that had to be tackled.

"9.5% of patients in Scottish acute hospitals have some form of HAI," she said. "And the £183m cost to the NHS together with the massive human cost is unacceptable." Ms. Sturgeon said the survey meant Scotland now had a more comprehensive picture of secondary infections than any other country in Europe.

The health secretary warned that the comprehensive nature of the survey meant Scotland's rates of HAI may appear worse than elsewhere. But she insisted like-for-like comparisons with countries like England and Norway showed Scotland's rates were similar. She said a task force set up to tackle the problem would now examine the case for introducing an MRSA screening programme. 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.

Ms Sturgeon added: "Tackling hospital infections is not just the job of hospital staff. Everyone has a key role to play in preventing the spread of infection - patients, visitors and staff alike."

The survey found almost all of the infections of the superbug clostridium difficile were found in elderly and medical wards.

Previous studies have only managed to estimate the scale of the problem.

Tory health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: "I hope that the HAI taskforce will recommend procedures to include healthcare acquired infections on a death certificate when it has been a significant contributory cause of death."

Labour's health spokesman Andy Kerr said: "Nicola Sturgeon's commitment to reducing hospital acquired infections in Scotland's hospitals is undermined by the SNP's long history of knee-jerk reactions and their inability to understand complex health issues."

Cathy Miller, a nurse based at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, said part of the problem was due to nurses having to wash their own uniforms. "This is the most penny-pinching thing I have ever heard," she said. "Now is that tackling hospital acquired infections when we're doing things like that?"

She said nurses were doing the best job they could with the staffing levels available, and added that contracting out cleaning services to private companies had not helped the matter.

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."