Infections caught while in hospital kill about 5,000 people a year and affect at least 100,000 people, a damning report by MPs warned yesterday.

Infections caught while in hospital kill about 5,000 people a year and affect at least 100,000 people, a damning report by MPs warned yesterday.

An influential House of Commons committee concluded that the NHS did not "have a grip on the extent of hospitalacquired infection", costing the health service up to £1bn a year.

MPs called for a "root and branch shift" towards preventing infection spreading to people admitted to hospital. They concluded that initiatives introduced to bring infection under control in hospitals had not succeeded.

Basic hygiene standards, such as hand-washing, were not practised by hospital staff and the NHS executive had not allocated sufficient funds to combat the spread of disease.

The report, by the Public Accounts Committee, said: "Hospital hygiene is crucial in preventing hospital acquired infection ... We find it inexcusable that compliance with guidance on hand-washing is so poor."

The inquiry found that between 50 and 70 per cent of surgical wound infections were after discharge from hospital, but those infections were not monitored. The MPs recommended the establishment of a national surveillance scheme to check the extent of infections.

The report, entitled Management and Control ofHospital-Acquired Infection in Acute NHS Trusts in England, criticised "complacency, poor prescribing practice and misuse of antibiotics" for the emergence of infections that are resistant to conventional drugs. It also said the scale of infections required "sufficient fundingto ensure that hospitals can tackle the problem effectively".

David Davis, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said: "Hospital-acquired infection endangers patients' lives and is a major drain on NHS resources. Every year thousands die and £1bn leaks from NHS coffers. While it will never be entirely preventable, there is more the NHS could do to combat this problem. It must be addressed as a matter of urgency and should be allocated adequate resources."

The report asserted that infection rates could be reduced by 15 per cent by better application of existing knowledge and realistic infection control practices. It also pointed to a potential savings of about £150m a year by tackling the spread of infection, but admitted that not all infections acquired in hospital were preventable.

"The very old, the very young, those undergoing invasive procedures and those with suppressed immune systems are particularly susceptible," the report said.

But it added that the high number of patients occupying beds contributed to the problem. The MPs said: "Trusts need to ensure that infection control is an integral part of their bed management policies."

Ministers also criticised the NHS for its failure to collateup-to-date information on the extent of hospital-acquired infection. And while they acknowledged that the NHS has begun to take some action to tackle the high level of infection in hospitals, "tangible, measurable progress" would not be seen until 2003.