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."

Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture