By making the most of partnership working, new technologies and ongoing vigilance, Plymouth Hospitals trust was able to make great strides in the fight against infection

At Plymouth Hospitals trust co-operation between clinicians and management has taken the infection control agenda forward, producing a significant reduction in MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) rates.

For the past two years the trust has been using the polymerase chain reaction test to detect MRSA. The main advantage of this technique is that it gives results in two to three hours rather than the two to three days taken for traditional diagnostic laboratory methods.

Trust infection prevention and control director Peter Jenks says: 'At the time Plymouth adopted the system there wasn't a great deal of data surrounding it but good, common-sense reasons for taking it up.'

Although Dr Jenks was unable to provide the professional practice director with a lot of evidence, a reasonably argued case resulted in full support.

The use of the polymerase chain reaction has reduced transmissions of MRSA on critical care and cardiac surgery wards by over 50 per cent.

'We don't need a rapid test in all areas but in critical care we need to know on day one if there is MRSA,' says Dr Jenks. 'We can then tailor the antibiotics and care on day one rather than day three.'

The benefits have not been limited to MRSA. 'It has had a massive impact on the way we manage outbreaks of diarrhoea and vomiting due to Norovirus, significantly reducing the number of unnecessary ward closures,' says Dr Jenks.

'Now if we have patients with diarrhoea and vomiting we know immediately if it's Norovirus or not,' he says.

'The operational team knows that it is real and if it occurs at the end of an outbreak we know if it is a secondary case or something else it gives us a lot more credibility.'