Labour's targets are fuelling spread of hospital superbugs

Hospital overcrowding caused by pressure to meet government waiting list targets is fuelling the spread of the MRSA superbug, experts warned yesterday.

Hospital infections have reached epidemic proportions, causing an estimated 5,000 deaths every year.

Barry Cookson, director of the laboratory of hospital infection at the Public Health Laboratory Service in London, highlighted the link between Britain having 100 per cent of its beds occupied and the soaring infection rate.

He warned that the only way to contain the spread of infection was to have fewer beds occupied - most European countries have an 85 per cent occupancy rate. Speaking at the Science Media Centre in London, Professor Cookson said: "There are 17 types of MRSA in the UK which are behaving in an epidemic fashion spreading between hospitals.

"What all the evidence shows is that we have got to get bed occupancy down to 85 per cent but the Government has clearly got its waiting list targets and has signed up to them.

"I think we should be entering a national debate. Patients should realise that there's a certain safety level, and above that we start having problems."

The spread of MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, has reached epidemic proportions in the past decade after first appearing in the 1960s.

The infection rate has risen by 600 per cent in the past 10 years to 7,000 a year and there are fears that it will double over the next six years. Fighting the infection costs the NHS an estimated £1bn a year and it is becoming increasingly difficult as the number of strains of the bug multiplies.

Professor Cookson said encouraging patients to travel to different hospitals of their choice raised the risk of spreading MRSA. Patient choice is a central plank of both the Government's health policy and that of the Conservative opposition. "Increasing patient choice opens up new opportunities for the potential of hospital-acquired infection transmission, and there should be appropriate systems in place to make sure that does not happen," he said.

Dr Alison Holmes, from the department of infectious diseases at Imperial College and Hammersmith NHS Trust, said: "We are working increasingly hard to try to protect the patients. However, admission pressures are enormous and contributing to the increase of the risk of transferring infections. We're trying to stick as many patients in a hospital as possible. This involves a lot of juggling and leads to an increased risk of infection."

Other European countries have tackled the superbug by using isolation wards, and Dr Homes said: "We have to recognise that admission pressures [in Britain] are affecting infections control practices. We are lacking in single rooms and it's incredibly difficult to isolate patients when there are inadequate supplies of single rooms."

The Department of Health acknowledged that hospitals had high occupancy rates as a result of cutting waiting lists, but emphasised that "very determined efforts" were being taken to reduce infection risks.

Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, said: "The NHS does run at high occupancy because it is treating many more patients and cutting waiting lists. In these circumstances, extra efforts have to be made to reduce the risk of infection and this is what the NHS is doing.

"As the infrastructure of the NHS is built up - more beds, more staff - it will be easier to control problems like MRSA. Very determined efforts are being made to focus action on MRSA and reduce its impact throughout the NHS."

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
peopleLynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance moves audience to tears
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree is to be made into a series of films
film

Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree really is being made into a film

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Deputy Head of Science

    £36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

    IT Teacher

    £22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

    Database Administrator

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

    Science Teacher

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London