Nearly a third of trusts have failed to halve their MRSA rates a year after the deadline for the NHS to cut infection levels by 50 per cent.

Analysis by HSJ shows the target to cut NHS-wide MRSA rates by 50 per cent between 2003-04 and April 2008 has failed to improve a national picture of patchy success. Based on Health Protection Agency figures the analysis reveals 53 trusts did not halve MRSA rates in 2008-09 compared with 2003-04.

Some of these already had relatively low infection rates but 10 started off with rates that were higher than average.

Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital trust recorded 15 cases in 2003-04 but managed to avoid any infections during 2008-09. Infection prevention nurse Nicola Best said: “It wasn’t easy. We started off with relatively high rates. The reduction was down to people in the clinical areas taking lots of responsibility. We carried out audits, surveillance and competency assessments.”

But she warned the trust was still battling other infections and the standard needed to be applied to these too.

HSJ analysed figures for total annual cases. Controversially, the NHS target used April to June 2008 figures instead of measuring MRSA levels at the end of March, as originally outlined.

The Department of Health is consulting on a new “objective” for MRSA, aimed at an achievable goal for reducing infections for each organisation based on bed days or local populations.

A DH spokesman said: “We do recognise that there are trusts who have not contributed as much as others have in securing these substantial reductions.

“This is why in the 2009-10 operating framework it was made clear that for those organisations yet to achieve a 50 per cent reduction this objective should remain their immediate goal.

“We will be using mechanisms such as the new MRSA objective to ensure all trusts play their part in bearing down further on the number of cases.”

Last week’s HPA figures showed big improvements in rates of C difficile, allowing the NHS to celebrate hitting its target two years ahead of schedule. C difficile infections have fallen by 36 per cent since 2007-08, when a target was set for a 30 per cent reduction by 2010-11.

Infection facts

  • Fifty-three trusts did not halve MRSA cases between 2003-04 and 2008-09 - the most recent financial year for which figures are available.
  • Ten of those started off with above average numbers of MRSA infections
  • The NHS has hit its C difficile target two years early, with infections falling by 36 per cent since 2007-08.