As part of its National Manifesto launched yesterday, it challenged the Government to publish national data on what many RCN members believe is a growing problem.
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the RCN, said it was the sickest patients, undergoing surgery or intravenous therapy who were the most vulnerable to infection. "They expect, rightly, that the hospital will treat them, not harm them.
"The consequences of hospital acquired infection can be devastating - and even in rare circumstances fatal, as the recent publicity about killer bugs has highlighted."
Infection control was a key measure of the quality of a hospital and needed to be taken just as seriously as waiting times or the number of patients treated.
In its latest publication on the issue, the RCN said that such infections constituted a silent epidemic. Hospitals were "conducive to the development and spread of infection". Patients brought in their own bacteria from outside and were also subjected to micro-organisms in the hospital environment.
The document estimated that if one in five infections were prevented, more than pounds 15m a year would be saved.
The manifesto said the number of patients waiting on trolleys before admission to a hospital bed was unacceptable, while the Patients' Charter stated that from April patients could expect to be given a bed within two hours if admitted to hospital through an accident and emergency department. Nurses, however, reported that such standards were too often breached.
The document attacked the lack of national standards which left old people exposed to a "care lottery". It also called for a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and coverage of tobacco-sponsored events on television.Reuse content