Mrs Cope contracted the infection after a hip replacement operation in February 2001. The infection meant her new hip had to be removed.

She took legal action against Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, claiming it had allowed her to contract MRSA by failing to implement its policies and treat the infection appropriately.

The case was settled out of court. Mrs Cope, who was left permanently disabled, intends to use the award to install a walk-in bath and a stairlift at her home.

Mrs Cope, who lives in Pencoed, a few miles from Bridgend, was an active bowls player and had hoped the operation would restore her mobility after she developed osteoarthritis. She said: "I hope that the hospital will learn from their mistakes and in future will follow its own policies and ensure that this does not happen to anyone else."

Her lawyer, Stephen Webber, said: "This is a landmark settlement, which will make it possible for injured claimants to obtain their rightful compensation if they suffer injuries following the contraction of MRSA.

"This is a wake-up call to the hospitals to ensure that they have adequate infection-control policies in place. If all hospitals adhere to those policies, infection control specialists advise that we should then see a reduction in the rates of MRSA infections."

Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust said: "The trust has accepted that there were some failings in relation to the care provided to Mrs Cope at the time and is pleased a settlement has now been reached."

There have been previous settlements in cases of inadequate treatment of MRSA, but this is believed to be the first case of an admission that the contraction of MRSA was avoidable.

Michael Summers, chairman of the Patients Association, said most hospitals now recognised the seriousness of dealing with MRSA, and that it was an issue that was "not going to go away".

Mrs Cope's case meant hospitals had to do some serious thinking, he said. "They will realise when they are forced to make admissions they have failed to implement their policies, they will be faced with paying very substantial damages."A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly government, which runs the NHS in Wales, said: "Rates in Wales [of healthcare-related infections] are lower than in England and Scotland, but clearly we are not complacent and continue to work to drive down the infection rates further."