More than 1,000 pensioners get superbug

By Rebecca SheppardA SERIOUS infection is plaguing hospitals with more than 1,000 pensioners diagnosed with a potentially lethal “superbug” in Essex and Suffolk in a year.

By Rebecca Sheppard

A SERIOUS infection is plaguing hospitals with more than 1,000 pensioners diagnosed with a potentially lethal “superbug” in Essex and Suffolk in a year.

Department of Health figures showed there were 1,105 cases of Clostridium difficile (C difficile) infection among people aged over 65 in Essex and Suffolk in 2004.

C difficile causes illness when certain antibiotics disturb the “normal” bacteria in the gut. It can cause diarrhoea and sometimes severe inflammation of the bowel, which can be life-threatening.

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Most infections occur in hospitals and nursing homes, but it can also be diagnosed in primary care.

The Department of Health has published figures for the first time from its mandatory surveillance scheme for C difficile-associated disease. They showed last year there were 44,488 cases of infection among the over-65s in England.

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The highest rate of C difficile in the four acute trusts in Essex and Suffolk was in West Suffolk Hospitals Trust, while the lowest was in Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust.

Simon Burns, shadow health minister and West Chelmsford MP, said he was shocked at the figures and called for cleaner hospitals.

“I am startled at the number of elderly people who have caught the super bug Clostridium difficile,” he said.

“People should be going to hospital to get better, not worse. The Government have poured money into the NHS, but superbugs continue to proliferate unabated.

“The first steps to cleaner hospitals are to scrap Labour's political targets and put matron in charge with the authority to shut dirty wards. Only then will the superbug crisis under Labour end.”

Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust, which runs Colchester General Hospital, said it believed it had the 12th lowest cases of C difficile in district general hospitals in the country and the lowest of all similar hospitals in the eastern region.

Dr Tony Elston, its infection control lead, said: “There is no major problem at Essex Rivers and there is certainly no need for panic.

“We have performed reasonably well, as the figures show. We are working hard to improve the quality of antibiotic prescribing, which may help us to reduce the numbers even further.”

James Paget Healthcare Trust, which runs James Paget Hospital in Gorleston, had 289 cases between January and December 2004.

Elayne Guest, spokeswoman, said: “During the course of any year you always have isolated cases. In this 12-month period there were 289 cases, but compared to the number of people actually admitted to the hospital, this figure is not huge.”

A spokesman for Ipswich Hospital Trust said it had been concerned about C difficile for some time.

“We have already implemented a number of measures to tackle this issue, such as changing our antibiotic policy, and are pursing more in order to achieve our ultimate aim of eliminating this very serious infection,” he said.

“We are also working hard to improve standards of cleanliness at the hospital which, again, should help us reduce the risk of patients becoming infected with C difficile. For example, we now have a number of ward housekeepers who are making a real difference.”

Dr Louise Teare, clinical director and director of infection control for Mid Essex Hospital Services Trust, which runs Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, said: “Obviously we take these statistics very seriously.

“We can never become complacent with statistics such as these. However, the antibiotic control and infection control procedures in place means we hope to minimise these figures further.”

A spokeswoman for West Suffolk Hospitals Trust, which runs West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, said: “We take infection control extremely seriously and we are tackling the cause of C difficile by continually monitoring and reviewing the use of antibiotics.”

But she said C difficile was quite common in the community and nursing homes, adding the figures did not show how many of the reported cases already had C difficile when admitted to hospital.

Christine Beasley, the UK's chief nursing officer, said: “C difficile diarrhoea occurs in patients who have received broad spectrum antibiotics, particularly the elderly and debilitated, but most patients make a full recovery.

“We have seen a rise in cases over the past decade, some of which is due to better reporting, but much of which is due to the increased number of patients with serious underlying illness who need antibiotics.

“We have issued guidance on dealing with outbreaks, with advice on antibiotic policies and isolating patients.”


Trust A B C

Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust 154 0.85 181,668

Ipswich Hospital Trust 402 2.36 170,513

James Paget Healthcare Trust 289 2.33 124,149

Mid Essex Hospital Services Trust 164 1.25 131,512

West Suffolk Hospitals Trust 385 2.42 159,178


A Number of C difficile reports for patients over 65, 2004

B Rate per 1,000 bed days for patients over 65, 2004

C Total bed days for patients over 65, April 2003 to March 2004

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