Superbug infection rises in Lothian hospitals

A nurse washes her hands with gel to prevent bugs spreading in hospitals. Picture: Kenny Smith
A nurse washes her hands with gel to prevent bugs spreading in hospitals. Picture: Kenny Smith
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CASES of a superbug infection in Lothian hospitals are on the rise despite national rates plunging to the lowest ever levels since monitoring began.

Experts have been parachuted in to drive down Clostridium difficile (C.diff) infection rates following the spike which saw cases rise by more than a third on the same quarter in 2013.

C.diff is an infection of the gut which often causes diarrhoea but can be life-threatening when it leads to severe inflammation of the bowel. It is notoriously difficult to treat because of its resistance to antibiotics.

Last year there were 403 recorded cases in Lothian, with almost three-quarters of people affected aged over 65.

The biggest rise was in the under-65 age group, which saw cases soar from 98 to 133 in the last financial year – an increase of 38 per cent. Three additional infection control nurses have been brought in – and increased ward inspections carried out – to curb the rise which peaked at 52 cases last October.

Health bosses have also enlisted the support of Health Protection Scotland which is working with the board to meet future targets.

Fiona Cameron, head of service infection prevention and control, NHS Lothian, said the spike had been “unexpected,” adding it was the first annual increase since monitoring began in 2006. The beef-up measures, including reviewing how antibiotics are prescribed, have so far seen a 20 per cent reduction across the board since they were introduced.

She said: “As part of that action plan we recruited additional infection and prevention control nurses, increased education and ward rounds and began reviewing policies and guidance in relation to the prescription of antibiotic medicine, which is known to be related to Clostridium difficile.”

The infection, often caused by antibiotics, heaped pressure on overstretched resources accounting for more than 607,291 “bed days” – where a patient is confined to a bed and stays overnight – spent in hospitals in the region in 2013.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said progress had been made in recent years but warned against complacency.

He said: “I’m glad this spike has been identified and is being acted upon. We can’t afford a return to several years ago when patients were literally too scared to go to hospital.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com