The National Audit Office has estimated that the cost of hospital-acquired infection could be cut by 15 per cent across the NHS, saving £150m a year.

In a report issued yesterday, the NAO puts the annual cost of HAI at£1bn, based on a recent study that extrapolated costs from one hospital (see news focus, 27 January).

This week's report says there are also serious consequences for patients, with 5,000 deaths a year - 1 per cent of the total - 'primarily attributable' to HAI and a further 15,000 having HAI as a 'substantial contributor'.

NAO head Sir John Bourn commended the 'professionalism and dedication' of infection control teams.

But the report says trust investment in them ranged from£500 to£1m in 1997-98.

A survey found that 122 trusts discussed infection control at board level at least once a year, but 26 - 12 per cent - never did so.

The report concludes that in many trusts, infection control may not have the profile it merits. The report sets out 29 recommendations for improvement. They include:

The DoH should consider revising its 1995 guidance on infection control and ensure trusts follow it.

Trusts should ensure infection control is an integral part of bed management, and resource infection control teams adequately.

The Management and Control of Hospital-Acquired Infection in Acute Trusts in England. www.nao.gov.uk