Superbugs: The ‘Lie’

Health chiefs have been accused of hiding the true extent of superbugs striking hospital patients across Wales. A leading support group which helps MRSA patients claims hospitals are discharging patients early in a desperate bid to keep official killer infection rates under wraps.

And they believe the amount of elderly patients suffering the painful and potentially fatal Clostridium Difficile (C.difficile) infection could be much higher than first feared.

Official figures show more than 2,500 elderly patients in Wales caught the bug after they were admitted to hospital in 2005. The gut infection, which causes severe diarrhoea, has killed hundreds of patients in Wales in the past seven years.

But new research by MRSA Support claims Welsh hospitals are hiding the true extent of infection in a bid to prevent panic. The claim follows the release of new figures by the National Public Health Service for Wales which show how many patients were struck down by MRSA and C.difficile in 2006.

The service’s Third National Prevalence Survey of Healthcare Associated Infections in Acute Hospitals for 2006 says 113 patients were struck down by the bugs between February and May 2006.

According to the survey, the highest number of cases – 23 – was recorded by Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust which runs the University Hospital of Wales in the capital.

However, MRSA Support alleges Wales’ 13 health trusts may not be providing accurate figures in a bid to keep a lid on the problem. The Welsh Assembly Government said it was unable to comment on the claim due to the forthcoming election.

But Tory health spokesman Jonathan Morgan said it was down to hospitals to be upfront and honest. He said: “Hospital cleanliness has been a major issue in Wales over the last 10 years. There is a massive noticeable difference between hospital cleanliness in Wales and elsewhere in the European Union.

“It’s a major issue and we all have to take responsibility for it. But hospitals must be honest and open if they are providing statistics to the National Public Health Service for Wales. They can’t be coy and play games with the health and well-being of patients. I hope this is not happening.”

Meanwhile, MRSA Support remains convinced the true picture of superbug infection is being hidden from the public. A spokesman for the Birmingham-based group – which provides a support network for MRSA patients in the UK and America – said: “I collate the superbug infection rate figures for Wales and we do not believe these new figures will tell the public what is really happening in Welsh hospitals.

“The general feeling is that hospitals are hiding the true extent of infection to prevent scaremongering. For example, the last quarterly figures issued by the Welsh Assembly Government in December were wrong because three NHS trusts failed to supply their figures for MRSA and C.difficile.

“Because of this, how can you get a true picture of the infection rates in Wales? First Minister Rhodri Morgan insists the infection rate in Wales is lower than England, but the last European healthcare report issued by the European Commission showed that Wales is right up there when it comes to MRSA infection rates. That’s not good.”

The National Public Health Service for Wales says the latest figures give a snapshot of the infections related to the provision of healthcare in the early part of 2006. Data was collected for all types of healthcare-associated infections and included questions regarding MRSA, C.difficile and norovirus – a violent stomach bug.

In total 75,671 hospital patients were included in the survey. The prevalence of healthcare associated infection overall in Wales was 6.4 per cent, compared to 4.9 per cent in the Republic of Ireland.

The National Public Health Service for Wales insists the latest figures are as accurate as they can be. Service spokesman Chris Lines said: “There was a lot of information in this survey which related to hospital-related infection.

“There were some figures which could be questioned as to how robust they were, but they did not relate to MRSA and C.difficile. Obviously, the figures are only as good as what you are given but we are pretty confident these latest statistics figures are robust.”

But MRSA Support chairman Tony Field said: “There have been far too many instances in Wales where patients are pushed out of hospital early and return a few weeks later and are diagnosed with picking up MRSA in their community.

“What happens is that patients are discharged and not tested for the superbug before they leave. When the same patients later return with C.difficile or MRSA, the figures show that they caught the bugs in the community and brought them into hospital. But that just isn’t right. It is happening everywhere, in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The true extent is being hidden.”