Government blamed as superbug deaths soar

The Government was last night accused of failing patients after figures revealed deaths involving MRSA and Clostridium difficile have risen sharply in one year.

The Government was last night accused of failing patients after figures revealed deaths involving MRSA and Clostridium difficile have risen sharply in one year.

Between 2004 and 2005, mention of MRSA on death certificates rose by 39% while mention of C difficile rose 69%, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The number of deaths with C difficile mentioned rose to 3,807 and MRSA mentions on certificates increased to 1,629. While political opponents condemned the figures, the ONS and the Government said some of the rise was likely to be down to better reporting.

Health minister Lord Hunt said: "We are now getting a far more accurate picture of the number of deaths from C difficile and MRSA with vastly improved recording.

"We have set very tough targets for trusts to reduce infections and put a hygiene code and a tougher inspection regime into law, to drive up standards of hygiene and infection control. As a result we are now starting to see significant reductions in rates of MRSA."

The Government has set a target of halving rates of MRSA by 2008, but a leaked Government memo published last month said the NHS was not on track to hit the target and probably never would.

It also warned that C difficile was endemic in hospitals.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Labour's savage bed cuts over the past two years have allowed deaths from C diff and MRSA to grow to this appalling level."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Norman Lamb, said: "This extraordinary rise in cases of MRSA is evidence that the Government's strategy to deal with superbugs is failing."

The figures for C difficile - which can cause severe diarrhoea - show a sharp rise in the last few years. The number of death certificates in England and Wales which mentioned the bug has more than trebled, from 1,214 in 2001 to 3,807 in 2005. MRSA was mentioned on one in every 500 death certificates over the period, while C difficile was mentioned on double that amount.

Age Concern's director general, Gordon Lishman, said: "We are extremely concerned about the dramatic rise in deaths involving C difficile."

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