Surgical site infections are the next infection control “challenge” facing the NHS, a leading nurse consultant has warned.
However, the exact scale of the problem is currently unknown, according to government advisor and former president of the Infection Prevention Society Martin Kiernan.
Mr Kiernan, nurse consultant for prevention and control of infection at Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust, was speaking last week at the Reducing Healthcare Acquired Infections conference in London.
SSIs are defined as any infection of the wound following surgery and can range from the minor to life-threatening. They are thought to place a significant financial burden on trusts with increased length of stay and re-admissions.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence estimates that SSIs make up 20% of all healthcare associated infections and that “at least 5%” of patients undergoing surgery develop one.
But Mr Kiernan said there were patients who had received a surgical infection and were discharged but did not re-attend, meaning they did not show up in the statistics.
“We don’t actually know how many of these cases there are, because we only tend to see them when they re-admit, and they tend to be the most ill,” he told delegates.
He added: “The challenges of SSIs still awaits us and no one knows how much it costs.”
Also addressing the conference, health minister Simon Burns confirmed next year’s national targets for MRSA and C difficile reduction.
In January the Department of Health set a target of reducing MRSA by a further 29% and C difficile by 18% by April 2013 – the same reduction achieved this year. This would mean 880 fewer cases of MRSA and 3,500 fewer C difficile cases.
Mr Burns congratulated NHS staff on the reductions achieved in 2011-12. He cited Health Protection Agency data showing 30 organisations had been MRSA-free for more than 12 months in January.
However, Mr Burns said there was currently “unacceptable variation” between the best and worst trusts.
He also said the DH was addressing emerging “threats” including Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamases, for which £1m had been allocated for research and surveillance.