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Infection rates in UK hospitals

UK hospitals are leading the way in the fight against MRSA, C. difficile and other hospital acquired infections. Infection rates are low and compare favourably with other countries in the developed world. London's private hospitals report very few MRSA infections (in many cases zero infection rates).

Methicillin resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have caused havoc in healthcare settings throughout the developed world. The UK, as other countries across Europe, Canada, the US, Australia and elsewhere saw infection rates rise out of control during the 1990s and early 2000s. Hospital acquired infections by strains of Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) were also recognised as a serious problem.

New control measures and a reduction in overcrowding in wards in NHS hospitals has done a great deal to bring UK infection rates down and the UK is now reporting the lowest rates of MRSA in its NHS hospitals since 2001. C. difficile rates of infection are also showing a promising downward trend.

UK infection rates in private hospitals were never as high as in communal wards in NHS hospitals, mainly because private patients have their own rooms. The staff to patient ratio has always been much higher in UK private healthcare and more staff are available for cleaning. Many UK private hospitals currently report zero rates of MRSA infection and their infection rates for C. difficile are minimal.

Reporting UK infection rates

The Health Protection Agency in the UK publishes regular updates of UK infection rates in NHS Trust hospitals and in private hospitals on a regular basis. Current reporting is done every three months but from early 2011, NHS hospitals will have to supply updated UK infection rates on a weekly basis. These will be collated to give monthly, three monthly and annual figures to allow prospective patients to see how UK infection rates are changing over time as well as the current level of risk.

 The latest statistics on UK infection rates

  • The latest available figures for MRSA infection rates show that for the quarter July to September 2010, the UK infection rate in NHS Trust hospitals showed an 80% decrease compared to the rate reported in 2003/2004. [1] This reduction is much higher than the 28% decrease reported in hospitals in the USA between 2005 and 2008. [2]
  • C. difficile infection rates published for the year 2007 – 2008 show that there was a 58% decrease in infection rate in NHS Trust hospitals compared to the quarterly average in 2003 – 2004.
  • The rates of surgical site infections (SSI) patients having hip replacement or knee replacement surgery in NHS hospitals in 2009 - 2010 were 0.63% and 0.54% respectively. Half of these infections were superficial, the other half penetrated deeper into tissue or into the joint itself. These UK infection rates are low and compare favourably to the rates currently being reported in other countries in Europe. [3]

UK infection rates: private hospitals

The major groups of private hospitals in the UK, which include BMI Healthcare, Abbey Hospitals, HCA International, Spire Healthcare (formerly BUPA Hospitals) all report very few MRSA infections (in many cases zero infection rates) and lower infection rates for C. difficile infection than many NHS Trusts. [4]

Independent large private hospitals in London, such as The Portland Hospital and The London Clinic also report zero MRSA infection rates and a low risk of C. difficile. The London Clinic’s latest published rate for C difficile is just under 33 cases per 100,000 bed days.

Controlling UK infection rates

UK private hospitals are leading the way in the fight against MRSA, C. difficile and other hospital acquired infections. All hospitals now practise the much more rigorous hand hygiene with soap and water as well as hand gel (which is not that effective against C. difficile when used alone) that has been standard in private facilities for years. Cleanliness of patient as well as clinical areas is made a priority.

Like private hospitals, NHS hospitals now screen patients for MRSA as soon as they arrive, or before their admittance for surgery. MRSA can be carried harmlessly on the skin, but later causes infection in a surgical wound. Any patients who are found to be MRSA positive are isolated and given more aggressive antibiotic therapy during and after surgery. All of these measures are having a significant effect on UK infection rates, which continue to fall each quarter.

[1] Health Protection Agency Trends in MRSA bacteraemia and C. difficile infection up to July-September 2010. December 2010 [Available at http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/StaphylococcusAureus/EpidemiologicalData/MandatorySurveillance/HCAIQuarterlyEpidemiology/ Last accessed January 10 2011]




[2] Health Leaders Media press release August 11 2010 Available at http://www.healthleadersmedia.com/content/QUA-254948/Hospital-MRSA-Infection-Rates-Plunge-28## Last accessed January 11 2011




[3] Health Protection Agency. Sixth report of the mandatory surveillance of surgical site infection in orthopaedic surgery, April 2004 to March 2010. Health Protection Agency. 2010 [Available at: www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/SurgicalSiteInfectionSurveillanceService/ Last accessed January 10 2011).




[4] The Health Protection Agency: Counts and rates of MRSA bacteraemia by Independent Sector Healthcare Organisation; April 2009 to March 2010; Counts and rates of Clostridium difficile infection by Independent Sector Healthcare Organisation; April 2009 to March 2010 http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1284474828232 Last accessed January 13 2011