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Infection risks ‘no longer significant’

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The government has claimed that high bed occupancy rates and traditional infection control risks are no longer significant in keeping MRSA rates in check.

But infection control nurses have cast doubt on the claims, based on five years of data.

A Department of Health report, published last month, states that trusts with high bed occupancy rates, high levels of temporary nursing staff or low cleanliness scores no longer have significantly higher MRSA rates than other trusts.

In 2006–2007 MRSA rates in hospitals with bed occupancy over 90% were only marginally higher than those in trusts with occupancy below 85%.

This is in contrast to 2001–2004, when the former had MRSA rates more than 10% higher than the latter.

The report says government infection control policies, including support for trusts with high infection rates and the cleanyourhands campaign – both introduced in 2004 – have had a significant impact.
But Martin Kiernan, vice president of the Infection Prevention Society, warned that the report should be treated with caution. ‘We cannot say that high bed occupancy rates and poor cleanliness are not an infection control problem, because we know they are.

‘Although it is encouraging that the numbers are coming down, the numerous infection control policies in place have muddied the waters, so it is difficult to say exactly what is working,’ he said.

‘We are in a major transitional phase and need to repeat these exercises in a few years, once the rates have settled at the lower levels,’ he added.

MRSA cases in England fell by 10%, from 1,447 to 1,303, between March and June 2007, according to latest Health Protection Agency data.

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