NHS staff have been praised for meeting the government’s target to reduce C difficile infections two years ahead of schedule.

Figures published by the Health Protection Agency show the number of C difficile infections has fallen by 36 per cent compared to the base level in 2007-8. Staff were asked to meet a targeted 30 per cent reduction by 2010-11.

The new health secretary Andy Burnham has congratulated NHS staff for their success in meeting the target two years ahead of schedule.

Despite the success, he said: “This remains a top priority for the government and the NHS. That is why I have asked the national quality board to help develop a new minimum standard.”

As well as reducing C difficile, the number of MRSA bloodstream infections have fallen by a further 29 per cent since the NHS met its target to halve them last year.

The risk of becoming infected with MRSA or C difficile is now at its lowest for five years, with the success put down to higher standards of clinical practice and cleanliness.

Nigel Ellis, head of national inspection and assessment at the Care Quality Commission, said: “This should provide reassurance to patients, but we will keep up the pressure and encourage the NHS to stay focused on improvements.”