Deaths relating to a severe form of infectious diarrhoea have risen by almost three-quarters, according to official figures released today.

The number of deaths involving Clostridium difficile rose by 72 per cent, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of death certificates in England and Wales that mentioned C diff infection rose from 3,757 in 2005 to 6,480 in 2006.

The Department of Health said steps had been taken to tackle infections since 2006 and said non-fatal cases of both MRSA and C diff have been falling.

It insisted figures were now on a par with those in other developed countries.

Chief microbiologist Professor Brian Duerden said: "The chief medical officer wrote to the NHS in July 2005 to make clear that we wanted infections such as MRSA and C difficile to be reported more accurately on death certificates.

These statistics from 2006 show that this move has worked and our figures are now in line with other developed countries."

He added: "Since 2006 we have taken significant steps to tackle infections.

"These include stringent hand-washing guidance for the NHS, a bare below the elbows dress code, putting matrons back in charge of cleanliness on their wards and an ongoing deep clean of every ward. Now MRSA and C difficile infections are falling."

He continued: "We are not stopping there.

"We are investing an extra £270 million per year by 2010/11 to fight infections which will pay for more specialist staff, including antimicrobial pharmacists, and MRSA screening for all patients."