Half of NHS hospital trusts in England are falling behind the target to cut rates of the MRSA superbug by 50% by 2008, the Government said today.

The Department of Health said the NHS was still not progressing fast enough in cutting rates of the killer infection.

The Health Minister Jane Kennedy said she was disappointed at the rate of progress to cut cases of the infection, which is thought to kill thousands of patients each year.

The latest figures showed that in the six month period April to September 2005, there were 3,580 cases of MRSA bloodstream infections reported in England.

This was up from 3,525 for the same period the previous year.

In 2004 former health secretary John Reid set a target of reducing MRSA bloodstream infections by half - from an annual rate of 7,684 cases to 3,842 by 2008.

But today the Department of Health said while around half of acute trusts were on target to meet this pledge, half were behind target.

Ms Kennedy said special teams would be sent into 20 trusts facing the greatest challenges in reducing their rates of MRSA.

The NHS must do better, she said.

"I am disappointed that despite many trusts making significant reductions in infections the overall figures do not reflect these improvements.

"These are early figures from the period at the very start of the comprehensive programme of action we have put in place," Ms Kennedy said.

"While 7,269 infections is a tiny fraction of the 12 million patients admitted to hospital every year, and more cases are reported now due to better surveillance, any avoidable infection is one too many."