Hospital bugs hit an all-time high: Number of patients picking up life-threatening infections has doubled in two years”Extremely concerning” rise from 22,488 to 42,712 cases in 24 monthsPoor hygiene on the wards thought to be behind the increase
Many affected are elderly, reducing chances of recovery from illness or surgery

A record number of patients picked up life-threatening infections in NHS hospitals last year, alarming figures show.

Poor hygiene on the wards has resulted in those with hospital-acquired infections doubling from 22,488 to 42,712 in just two years.

Most of those affected are elderly, meaning their chances of recovering from the surgery or serious illness they were being treated for in the first place are drastically reduced. The average age of patients battling hospital bugs is 76.

At risk: Most of those affected are elderly, meaning their chances of recovering from the surgery or serious illness they were being treated for in the first place are drastically reduced

At risk: Most of those affected are elderly, meaning their chances of recovering from the surgery or serious illness they were being treated for in the first place are drastically reduced

Worrying: Michell Mitchell, head of Age UK, said the increasing trend of hospital acquired infections was

“Not complacent”: Health minister Simon Burns said significant progress had been made, while Michell Mitchell, head of Age UK, said the increasing trend of hospital acquired infections was “extremely concerning”

The figures, from the NHS Information Centre, cover all hospital infections including superbugs MRSA and C.difficile and other dangerous illnesses such as norovirus and E.coli. Experts say that while efforts to eradicate the superbugs have had some success, the other avoidable bugs are on the rise.

Only today the Health Protection Agency announced there have been 46 outbreaks of suspected norovirus in hospitals over the past two weeks, with more than half leading to ward closures or restrictions. Since the beginning of October, there have been 244 confirmed outbreaks.

Infection experts warned that some of the diseases are becoming ‘hyper-resistant’ to antibiotics. Critics say that while trusts are getting to grips with familiar superbugs, other infections are slipping under the radar because figures on their prevalence do not need to be submitted to the Department of Health for scrutiny.

The sharp rise in the numbers suffering from hospital infections is mirrored by a similar spike in the compensation the NHS is paying to such patients which reached a record 6million last year.

In vain Hospitals have tried to make wards cleaner by providing handwash and making patients and visitors more aware of the need for hygiene

In vain Hospitals have tried to make wards cleaner by providing handwash and making patients and visitors more aware of the need for hygiene

Hospitals have tried to make wards cleaner by introducing handwash and encouraging patients and visitors to be more aware of the need to be hygienic. Such efforts, however, appear to be in vain.

According to data submitted by hospitals to the NHS Information Centre, in 2010/11, there were 42,712 cases in which a hospital consultant recorded a patient’s illness as being a ‘nosocomial condition’ – that is an infection picked up in a hospital or medical environment.

It is the highest rate in the 13 years for which records are publicly available. In 1998/99 it was just 335.

This year’s figure is up 36 per cent on the 31,447 recorded in 2009/10 and almost double the 22,488 of 2008/09.

Hospital-acquired infections lead to extended stays in hospital of around one month.

Last year patients battling these conditions took up almost 800,000 NHS bed nights and equated to 2,200 beds on a daily basis.

Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern said: ‘This is a terrifying prospect for vulnerable elderly people who think they are going into hospital to get better.

‘It contrasts sharply with the happy propaganda that has been telling us that infection rates had dropped sharply. It is shocking that there seems to be no effective way of motivating hospital managers to stop this appalling waste of money when they are laying off front line staff to cut budgets.’

Earlier this month it emerged that 38 trusts had been affected by outbreaks of norovirus, with many having to close wards. Almost 800 patients were affected.

In the last year, compensation payments to the victims of hospital-acquired infections reached record levels and almost trebled from the previous year’s figure to more than 6million. When the legal costs associated with the cases are added in, the total bill to the NHS came to more than 10million.

“Hyper-resistant”: Experts say that while efforts to eradicate the superbugs, such as MRSA (pictured), have had some success, the other avoidable bugs are on the rise

It means around 30,000 every day is drained out of the NHS budget to pay for the claims of those who pick up life-threatening infections while in hospital, often for routine treatments.

The NHS figures do not break the infections down by type, but along with MRSA and C. diff they are expected to include norovirus, E coli, various urinary tract infections and conditions such as pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterial infection that can attack everything from organs to soft tissue.

Epidemiologist Dr Mark Enright, of London’s Imperial College, said: ‘MRSA and C. diff have largely been controlled, because hospitals can get into quite a lot of trouble because they have to report to health authorities.

‘But there are other organisms which are resistant to antibiotics, such as pseudomonas aeruginosa. These are present in the environment but can be dangerous in hospitals, affecting people with depressed immune systems.

“This increasing trend of hospital-acquired infections is extremely concerning”

‘It can be very difficult to stop them spreading all over hospitals. If you are a nurse on a busy ward at night you can’t always change gloves between patients so you will always get a measure of bacteria transmission.’

Michelle Mitchell, charity director of Age UK, said: ‘This increasing trend of hospital acquired infections is extremely concerning. People over the age of 60 are 88 per cent more likely to acquire these infections.

‘This can be extremely distressing for older patients and their families, and can have a detrimental effect on their recovery.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “These figures are misleading. The NHS has got better and better at tackling hospital infections, demonstrated by the record lows we have seen this year.

“Because we are not complacent, we have introduced mandatory reporting of more hospital infections. That means that we have shone a light on the problems previously swept under the carpet.

But patients should be confident that the measures we have taken will continue the downward trend in hospital infections.”