C. difficile infections are continuing to fall, the latest quarterly statistics from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) showed today.
There were 8,947 C. difficile infections in in England between July and September 2008. This represents a 33 per cent reduction compared to the same quarter last year and a 35.5 per cent reduction compared to the average quarter in 2007/08. The figures show a drop in C. difficile cases across all age groups for July to September 2008.
The NHS is on track to achieve the national target of reducing C. difficile infections by 30 per cent by 2010/11 against the 2007/08 baseline. To meet the target, a reduction of at least 30 per cent compared to the average quarter in 2007/08 would need to be sustained over four consecutive quarters.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson said:
"This is very good news, and shows that the relentless focus on tackling infections has been working effectively. It isn't just about extra investment and tighter regulation - it's also about ensuring that everyone follows the hand-washing routine, the bare below the elbows dress code, the proper hygiene measures and responsible prescribing of antibiotics - which is particularly important in relation to C. difficile."
Today, the Department of Health also published new expert guidance on the management of C. difficile in hospitals. This brings together expert advice on control of C. difficile to provide a single comprehensive source of scientific guidance for the NHS.
The 7,061 cases reported in July to September 2008 represent a 19 per cent fall from the previous quarter, April to June 2008, when the number of cases was 8,696.
All figures relate to England only.
C diff is associated with the use of antibiotics and is particularly harmful for the weak and the sick, including the elderly.
When antibiotics disturb the balance of the natural bacteria found in the gut, C diff bacteria can multiply at a fast rate and produce harmful toxins which cause diarrhoea.
Professor Mike Catchpole, director of the HPA's centre for infections, said: "NHS staff are working hard to fight healthcare-associated infections, such as C difficile, and their hard work is paying off.
"But winning against these infections will only happen if this hard work continues.
"Healthcare-associated infections are a global problem and remain a challenge for all of us.
"Robust infection control and appropriate use of antibiotics remain key to tackling infections such as C difficile.
"It is important to remember that some healthcare-associated infections can arise as the result of the treatment of other life-threatening infections, and as such, can be difficult to avoid.
"The use of antibiotics in patients who are very sick can leave people susceptible to C difficile which would normally be easily kept at bay in healthy people.
"However, this shouldn't lead to complacency around tackling the infections that are preventable and engaging in the battle to continually drive down rates of healthcare-associated infections. These figures show that there continue to be significant reductions."
Maggie Kemmner, head of safety at the Healthcare Commission, said: "After a long struggle to control C difficile, the NHS is at last seeing rates come down. This is great news for patients.
"Constant vigilance is required to guard against rises in rates in the future.
"The NHS must also keep a close eye on other healthcare-associated infections that pose a risk to patients."
Among all people over the age of two, there were 8,947 C diff cases between July and September 2008.
This is a 33 per cent fall on the same quarter in 2007 and a 36 per cent reduction compared to the average quarterly figure for 2007/08.
The Department of Health said the NHS was on track to achieve its national target of reducing C diff infections by 30 per cent across all age groups by 2010/11 against a 2007/08 baseline.
To meet the target, the NHS will have to achieve at least a 30% reduction over an entire year compared to the average quarterly figure for 2007/08.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "This is very good news, and shows that the relentless focus on tackling infections has been working effectively.
"It isn't just about extra investment and tighter regulation - it's also about ensuring that everyone follows the hand-washing routine, the bare below the elbows dress code, the proper hygiene measures and responsible prescribing of antibiotics - which is particularly important in relation to C difficile."
The Department of Health published new guidance today on managing C diff in hospitals.