Hospital bug C difficile claimed 248 lives in Scotland last year and was a “contributory factor” in a further 517 deaths, figures show.

The total of 765 cases for the year 2008 was a new high and a 12.7 per cent rise on the 597 deaths recorded the previous year, according to the General Register Office for Scotland.

However, the death toll from another hospital infection, MRSA, was 7 per cent lower last year compared with 2007.

And quarterly figures show a drop in the number of deaths from C diff from 75 at the beginning of 2008 to 42 in the final three months.

Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the downward trend over the year was “encouraging”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “As expected, in many ways the death rates mirror the infection rates which peaked in the first half of 2008. Since then, infection rates have fallen steadily and are now at their lowest level since monitoring began.

“These facts give us grounds for optimism but we can never be complacent.”