2,500 cases of killer bug in North hospitals.
Nearly 2,500 outbreaks of a potentially-lethal infection ( blamed for the deaths of hundreds of patients in the UK ( have been reported by North-East hospitals, according to new Government statistics released yesterday.
The Department of Health has revealed there were 2,470 cases of Clostridium Difficile (C diff) in over-65s in the North-East last year.
It is the first time mandatory surveillance of the diarrhoea-causing infection ( blamed for the death of 12 patients at Buckinghamshire's Stoke Mandeville Hospital in June ( has been undertaken.
In 2000, there were 745 cases reported in the region, but information was only collected on a voluntary basis, so the true figure may have been higher. Now, the DoH has only asked hospitals to submit figures for the over-65s as they account for 80% of cases ( meaning there are likely to have been around another 500 cases in the region not reported last year.
While MRSA is often the infection most feared by people being admitted to hospital, these latest statistics have shown that C diff is nearly seven times more common.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2003 there were 1,748 mentions of C diff on death certificates in the UK, of which 934 noted the infection as the underlying cause of death.
The DoH also yesterday published data on the infection glycopeptide resistant enterococci (GRE), which can cause infections of the blood and heart valves, but only three cases were reported in the North-East for 2004. Yesterday, health unions and campaigners called for greater unity and better cleanliness to deal with hospital-acquired infections. Brian Fishwick, deputy chief executive for Age Concern Northumberland, said: "I'm pleased this infection is getting greater attention, but it seems there's no consistency in how these things are dealt with from hospital to hospital, and even within the same hospital."
Age Concern director-general Gordon Lishman added: "The very high rates of this infection will worry many older people, as they are the biggest users of the NHS and are most likely to be exposed to it. Many hospitals are clearly not doing enough to keep wards safe and clean. Older people and their families will want to use this information to make informed choices about the safety of the hospital they choose to be treated in."
Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said: "It's not rocket science ( the way to wipe out these bugs is to have cleaner hospitals."
Chief nursing officer for the DoH, Christine Beasley, said: "Clostridium Difficile diarrhoea occurs in patients who have received broad spectrum antibiotics, particularly the elderly and debilitated, but most patients make a full recovery.
"We have seen a rise in cases over the past decade, some of which is due to better reporting, but much of which is due to the increased number of patients with illness who need antibiotics.
"We added Clostridium difficile and glycopeptide resistant enterococci to the mandatory surveillance system to help the NHS establish the scale of the problem, and provide information to help improve infection control."