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Superbugs Linked to 375 Deaths in Lothians Hospitals

July 25, 2008

By Gareth Rose

SUPERBUGS have been recorded as contributing to the deaths of 375 people in Lothian hospitals over the past seven years, according to newly published figures.

The Scottish Government statistics taken from death registers reveal the scale of the challenge faced by medics in combating MRSA and C. diff.

NHS Lothian is attempting to crack down on both, and says its record has improved in the last two years. Health chiefs also believe there has been inaccurate reporting of superbug deaths by junior doctors and that the true figure is much lower.

C. diff, which in roughly a quarter of cases is caught in the community rather than hospitals, has become the most feared superbug in Scotland – even though 86 per cent of people who catch it recover. An outbreak at the Vale of Leven Hospital affected more than 50 people and killed nine.

However, the new figures show that MRSA was reported as a factor in 18 deaths at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 2006 alone.

NHS Lothian has halved C. diff cases by reducing the amount of antibiotics given to patients.

And a recent Health Protection Scotland report showed MRSA infections were down by almost a fifth in a single year.

NHS Lothian is due to publish new figures soon, which are expected to show the number of C. diff-related deaths has fallen.

Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “You would have thought we would have made more progress in the fight against superbugs.

“All we want is the security of knowing that, when you go into hospital, there’s no MRSA, no C. diff, and you are going to come out safely the other side.”

NHS Lothian has piloted a number of initiatives aimed at improving handwashing, including voiceboxes that remind people when they go in and out of wards, and ultraviolet lights which help people to see if their hands have been properly washed.

NHS Lothian does not have the greatest number of deaths where C. diff was the primary cause – revised Scottish Government figures show 41 in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, compared to 40 here.

Dr Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian, said: “We know from our own detailed surveillance data that the rate of MRSA infections in Lothian has dropped by 17.5 per cent in the last year, and before that we had been able to keep the infection rate stable for five years.

“We have also halved C. diff infection rates in areas at the Royal Victoria and Western General hospitals through altering the use of antibiotics, and are about to extend this scheme to both Liberton and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

“We have recently reviewed deaths in Lothian hospitals over a six- month period where junior doctors had recorded C. diff as a primary cause of death. This review found that over two-thirds of these deaths had been inaccurately recorded.

“It must be understood that most people who develop C. diff are older and most are already very ill with serious conditions. In 2006- 07, people over the age of 60 spent just under a million days and nights in NHS Lothian’s hospitals.

“We are continually highlighting to staff and visitors the importance of washing hands to try to ensure that these infections, which are prevalent in the community, are not brought into hospitals, and our hospitals are regularly given top marks for cleanliness in independent checks.”

See epages for a table showing the number of deaths where C.diff and MRSA were a contributory factor in the different hospitals in Edinburgh from 2000 to 2006.

Originally published by Gareth Rose Health Reporter.

(c) 2008 Evening News; Edinburgh (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.




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