Comment: ‘The quick response is reassuring’

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The superbug outbreak at the Royal Infirmary will worry patients and their families at one of the busiest times of the year for hospital admissions.

The Vale of Leven public inquiry means that the dangers which Clostridium difficile can pose are fresh in our minds.

But it is important to remember that deaths from C.diff are relatively rare – at around 60 a year across Scotland – with the bug being a contributory factor in another 100.

C.diff has already been ruled out as the cause of death of the two patients at the ERI. The ongoing investigation into the outbreak may be able to determine whether or not it played any part.

The quick response of the hospital management in evoking procedures to contain the potential spread of the bug offers 
reassurance.

Driving down infections is clearly a priority for the health board since extra specialist staff were drafted in following a spike in cases last year.

This latest outbreak is another reminder of the impotence of antibiotics against some infections which naturally find a home in hospitals.

Our biggest hope is that the pharmaceutical companies will develop a new generation of antibiotics capable of controlling them, but there is no guarantee of when, or if, that will happen. Sadly, that does not appear to be a priority for many of them right now. It should be.

In the meantime, hospitals have no choice but to return to traditional methods of infection control, which would be familiar to our grandparents.

Bigger gaps between beds, fewer patients on the wards and better staff to patient ratios are all steps that experts agree will help to fight the spread of infections. None are easy for hospital bosses amid the growing strain on resources within the NHS.

The battle against superbugs is likely to be an ongoing one for our hospitals, despite falling rates across much of the country, but at least we know that urgent steps are being taken to contain the problem on the wards.