Battle is on for medics to get better of superbugs

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PROGRESS has been made in the battle against hospital superbugs but Lothian health chiefs still face a “significant challenge” to get infection rates under control.

There were 55 cases of the potentially deadly infection Clostridium difficile – commonly known as C-diff – in patients over 65 up to March 2015, compared to 62 the previous quarter, a report by Health Protection Scotland has revealed.

In patients aged 15 to 64 there were 26 cases, compared to 33 the previous quarter.

Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia (SAB) cases, which include MRSA, rose from 76 in the final quarter of 2014 to 84 cases up to March.

NHS Lothian was given additional support by the agency last winter to bring down infections, with three additional infection control nurses parachuted in and increased ward inspections.

Papers before NHS Lothian’s board meeting last month revealed that the Scottish Government’s targets for C-diff and MRSA were not being achieved.

The health board needs to reduce its C-diff cases by 0.05 by March 2016 and SAB cases by 0.17 in the same time frame.

Melanie Johnson, NHS Lothian’s director of nursing, told the meeting: “Healthcare Associated Infections are a significant challenge to us.

“Work is continuing to address these issues and we will keep the board informed of that.”

She said positive action was being taken but it was too early to be confident that NHS Lothian was on track to meet its target.

C-diff is an infection of the gut, which can be life-threatening when it leads to severe inflammation of the bowel.

Like MRSA, which is bacteria passed through skin to skin contact, C-diff is resistant to antibiotics which makes it very difficult to treat.

Good hand hygiene and high cleaning standards can prevent infection and recurrence.

Dr Jean Turner, patron of the Scotland Patients’ Association, said: “It is always good that the rates are coming down but if the health board is having difficulty in making sure it gets further down then it may be to do with low staffing levels.

“Unfortunately we do hear sometimes of inspectors finding dirty commodes or things like that. Preventing this should come absolutely naturally to everybody in the hospital.”

Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said “considerable progress” had been made but more would be done in the wake of the public inquiry into a deadly outbreak of C-diff at the Vale of Leven Hospital, in Dunbartonshire.

Ms Watt said: “C. difficile levels are at the lowest on record and we have seen huge reductions across the board since 2007. That is a tribute to the hard work of staff at all levels in our NHS, who are doing all they can to ensure we have some of the safest hospitals in the world.”