The hospital bug Clostridium difficile, which is sweeping through NHS hospitals, is killing twice as many people as MRSA.

The hospital bug Clostridium difficile, which is sweeping through NHS hospitals, is killing twice as many people as MRSA.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 1,748 deaths recorded in 2003 in which C.difficile was mentioned on the death certificate. In 934 of those deaths, C.difficile was given as the underlying cause.

In the same year, Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) was mentioned on the death certificates of 955 patients, in 321 of which it was given as the underlying cause.

The new figures for C.difficile were obtained in response to a parliamentary question by David Lidington, the Conservative MP for Aylesbury.

A spokesman for the staistics office said: "We occasionally carry out searches for any mention of a cause of death on death certificates because it gives a fuller picture."

C.difficile causes severe diarrhoea, and cases have doubled since 2001 to more than 43,000 in 2004. Some of the increase is due to better reporting. Deaths due to the bug, which occur mostly in the over 65s, rose 38 per cent between 2001 and 2003.

Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, announced this week that she would order an inquiry into an outbreak of a virulent new strain of the bug at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which has claimed 12 lives and infected 300 people since the end of 2003.

The official toll of 12 deaths was challenged yesterday by the family of a man who died at the hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, after contracting the infection, but was not listed among the 12. Ernest Bruver died, aged 80, on 8 May 2004 after being admitted to hospital five weeks earlier with severe gastroenteritis.

The cause of death on his death certificate was given as (1) broncho-pneumonia and respiratory failure, and (2) C.difficile. But when his family contacted the hospital last week, managers denied that he had died from the infection.

Mr Bruver's son, Nigel, 50, said: "It took them 48 hours to come back to me and they said my father was not one of the 12. Yet there it was on his death certificate. I couldn't make head or tail of it."

Ernest Bruver was admitted to intensive care at Stoke Mandeville on 2 April 2004. Nigel Bruver said: "He succumbed to an infection and got diarrhoea, but we weren't told what it was. The death certificate said he died of pneumonia. But he got pneumonia because he was lying flat on his back for five weeks with diarrhoea caused by C.difficile.

"If he hadn't got C.difficile, he wouldn't have ended up with pneumonia. I think we were kept in the dark."

A spokesman for Stoke Mandeville said: " C.difficile infection is very common, and it is not uncommon to have it listed on death certificates. The 12 deaths we have referred to are cases where the death was directly attributed to C.difficile as the primary or probable cause."