The number of deaths from healthcare associated infections in Scotland is falling, official statistics show.

The number of people in Scotland who died last year from Clostridium difficile (C diff) dropped to 139 in 2009 from 248 the previous year - a fall of 44%.

In addition, the number of fatalities from MRSA halved from 48 to 24

The downward trend is mirrored in the actual infection rates, and health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said it shows control measures in the NHS are working.

She said: “I’ve made tackling hospital infections like C diff and MRSA a top priority for the Scottish Government.

“It’s vital that people have confidence in the quality of care they receive if they need hospital treatment and that’s why we have put in place a wide range of measures designed to both crackdown on these infections and improve healthcare outcomes.

“Infection rates have been steadily declining in recent months and are now at their lowest level since monitoring began. It is good news that, as we expected, death rates are mirroring this trend.”

A public inquiry was launched earlier this year into a C diff outbreak in which 18 people died at the Vale of Leven hospital in Alexandria, between December 2007 and June 2008.

It will also look into the handling of a C diff outbreak at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee last year in which five people died.

Today`s figures from the General Register Office for Scotland show there were 139 deaths where C diff was the main cause in 2009.

In addition, there were 326 deaths where C diff was mentioned on the death certificate as a contributory factor - down from 517 in 2008 and 377 in 2007.

The 24 deaths from MRSA were in cases where it was listed as the main cause.

There were 137 deaths where MRSA was mentioned on the death certificate as a contributory factor, down from 166 in 2008.

The Scottish Government has tripled funding to tackle healthcare associated infections - to more than £50 million over three years - to support a new and more comprehensive infection control plan.

A new inspectorate was also set up last year to scrutinise hospitals’ performance in dealing with infections like MRSA and C diff.

But Labour’s Jackie Baillie today voiced concerns about the looming impact of thousands of job cuts announced in the NHS this year.

She said: “I welcome the fall in the number of deaths from hospital infections. This is a testament to the campaign waged by families in the Vale of Leven and the hard work of NHS staff.

“But there is a lot more to do. I am worried that progress against infections like C diff and MRSA is now being put at risk by cutbacks in nursing staff.

“Nicola Sturgeon must take action to ensure that hospital cleaning does not suffer as a result of the financial pressures now facing the health service.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie added: “It is welcome that deaths from hospital infections continue to fall.

“However the true extent on how hospitals deal with infection control will not be known until the public inquiry into the deaths at Vale of Leven hospital in Alexandria report back on their findings.”