Hospital infection rates must come down, says watchdog

Hospital bed - with hand-washing gelImage source, Science Photo Library
Image caption,
Regular hand-washing is key to preventing the spread of infection

Doctors and nurses should do more to stop hospital patients developing infections, an NHS watchdog says.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has issued "quality standards" on measures including hand-washing and catheter insertion.

About 300,000 patients develop an infection in England each year while being treated by the NHS.

Prof Gillian Leng, of NICE, said it was unacceptable that rates were still so high.

Rates of MRSA and Clostridium difficile - the most well-known hospital-acquired infections - have fallen significantly in recent years, but one in 16 people treated in the NHS picks up an infection.

'Hinder recovery'

Infections can occur during invasive procedures or when devices such as urinary catheters are fitted, and can then be passed on to other people.

These include pneumonia and infections of the lower respiratory tract, which account for 23% of the total, urinary tract infections (17%) and surgical site infections (16%).

Prof Leng, who is deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, said: "It is unacceptable that infection rates are still so high within the NHS.

"Infections are a costly and avoidable burden. They hinder a patient's recovery, can make underlying conditions worse, and reduce quality of life."

The NICE standards say people should be prescribed antibiotics in accordance with guidelines and healthcare workers should follow procedures - including hand-washing - to cut the risk of infection when devices such as catheters are inserted.

Prof Leng added: "Although there have been major improvements within the NHS in infection control, particularly in relation to Clostridium difficile and MRSA bloodstream infections in the last few years, healthcare-associated infections are still a very real threat to patients, their families and carers and staff.

"This quality standard gives primary, community and secondary care services the most up-to-date advice on the best ways to minimise the risks of infections."

Tom Sandford, director of the Royal College of Nursing in England, said: "Infection prevention and control are key to patient safety and need to be prioritised by every health service organisation.

"It is vital that all health care workers are actively involved in upholding infection control and hygiene standards and nursing staff have been at the forefront of many successful efforts to reduce infections and promote patient safety.

"Infection prevention and control are serious issues that require clear leadership.

"All health employers should provide leadership at a local level and support their staff in adhering to NICE's quality standard, from making sure they receive relevant training to allowing them the time to follow the correct procedures."

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