A row has erupted between the NHS Confederation and the Healthcare Commission, with the regulator accused of 'talking down' trusts in its latest report on the hygiene code.
Confederation policy director Nigel Edwards said: "Regulators do need to comment publicly. But there's an issue about the trust of people they're reporting on, and not talking down the system to the point that it can do no good."
While 90 per cent of trusts involved in the inspections were not compliant with every aspect of the code, most of the failures did not pose an immediate risk to patients.
Mr Edwards said the uniformly negative media coverage generated by the report did not reflect improvements in infection control in the NHS.
Monday's press coverage prompted the confederation to issue a harder line than an embargoed statement it released on Friday.
Mr Edwards said: "There's a long-standing tradition of regulators telling us something's a positive story but then in the press it's very different.
"The fact that every single paper has taken that line makes one wonder what briefing they're being given."
He said mixed messages had been given by the commission's predecessor, the Commission for Health Improvement, as well as the Audit Commission in its earlier years.
The annual health check and last year's maternity review have also been presented unfairly, he felt.
The commission responded robustly to the charges. Chief executive Anna Walker said the media coverage was generally accurate and journalists were briefed on the positive as well as negative findings.
She said: "The key point we brought out was there's absolutely no doubt that NHS trusts are grappling hard with infection prevention and control... [and] we found very few serious problems.
"The code is very tough and we put a lot of effort into making it clear that these weren't serious lapses."
After discussions with the Department of Health, the draft press release was amended to give more prominence to statements about boards taking the issue seriously and the fact that there were only three serious failings.
The release still contained her "personal, strong views", she said.