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Hospital Acquired Infections
Hospital Acquired Infections

Hospital Acquired Infections

Hospital acquired infections have become a well-documented problem in recent years, with news of superbugs frequently making the headlines. Patients being admitted to hospital, even for routine procedures, are at risk of being infected. This can lead to further illness, additional surgery, and sometimes even death. Of all hospital acquired infections, MRSA and C Difficile (C Diff) are among the most well-known.


MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was a rarity in hospitals until the 1980s, when epidemic strains suddenly emerged. By 2002 the infection became widespread, and between 2003 and 2004 there were 7,700 reported cases of MRSA. This alarming number of cases has been attributed to poor hygiene and cleanliness at hospitals, with substandard infection control being one of the most significant health threats to emerge over the past decade.

MRSA is caused when bacteria enters the body through a break in the skin and multiply. Symptoms often begin with redness and swelling at the site of infection, which can develop into boils or abscesses. If the infection enters the bloodstream, the patient may suffer from sepsis.

Around one in three people carry MRSA, sometimes for days, weeks or even months, but are unaware as a healthy person will fight the bacteria without there being any symptoms or sign of infection. Patients in hospital, however, are much more likely to develop the infection. Firstly, because of the high exposure to infected cases, and secondly because those with a weakened immune are at a greater risk, especially the elderly, patients with an open wound, or someone taking antibiotics.

MSRA infections are particularly difficult to treat because the bacteria are immune to most antibiotics. Consequently a longer and higher dose of antibiotics is needed, or treatment must involve an antibiotic to which the bacteria are not resistant.

C Diff

C Diff (Clostridium difficile) became a widely recognised hospital acquired infection in 2005, with 55,681 people over the age of 65 years being infected in 2006. C Diff is a natural bacterium that inhabits the gut. After an operation or due to antibiotic medication the natural balance of this bacterium can be upset, causing bacteria to multiply and release toxins, which in turn lead to fever and diarrhoea.

Sometimes stopping the ingestion of antibiotics is enough to make the symptoms subside, although often additional medication is needed. Without treatment the patient will suffer extreme dehydration.

Like MRSA, C Diff can be prevented by maintaining high standards of hygiene, such as cleaning surfaces with products that contain bleach and washing hands regularly. It must be noted, however, that products such as alcohol hand gel is not effective against C Diff, so hands must be washed with soap and water.

Controlling Infection

With hospital acquired infections becoming more prevalent, healthcare professionals considered why the number of cases was suddenly increasing so dramatically. The reasons are because firstly, the population is more vulnerable due to advances in age and surgery, and secondly because the NHS was failing to implement preventative measures against infection. Consequently, new strategies were put in place in an attempt to control hospital acquired infection:

1. Targets

Targets were put in place, calling for a 30% reduction in C Diff cases by 2010-2011 and a 50% reduction in MRSA cases by 2008. Both targets have been achieved.

2. Surveillance

Infections were monitored nationwide, with monthly figures published online by the Health Protection Agency.

3. Clinical Protocol

Clinical protocols that reduced patient exposure to infection via invasive procedures (eg. catheters) has been implemented, and is now part of normal medical and surgical procedure.

4. Cleanliness and hygiene

There has been a strong focus upon hand hygiene for staff and cleaning in areas occupied by patients.

5. Training

Measures were supported by the mandatory training for all staff.

What Can We Do For You?

Despite the measures taken to reducing superbugs, hospital acquired infections continue to pose a serious threat to patients. If you think you or someone you know has been the victim of a hospital acquired infection, and you can show that the source of the infection arose in hospital or there was a failure to treat it adequately, you may be entitled to compensation. Early legal advice is essential to assess whether you have a valid legal claim. Glynns offer free initial legal advice and can often act for you on a "no win, no fee" basis. If we cannot we will provide you with funding alternatives.

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