Trusts have been told to prioritise protecting patients from C difficile over other strategic goals in new Department of Health guidance on controlling infection rates.

The guidance comes as figures released today reveal a 33 per cent year-on-year fall in C difficile infection rates.

The number of cases dropped across all age groups between July and September last year, with 8,947 cases reported in total, compared with 10,888 in the previous quarter.

The DH said the NHS is on course to hit the national target of reducing C difficile rates by 30 per cent by 2010-11 against the 2007-08 baseline.

Health secretary Alan Johnson said: "This is very good news, and shows that the relentless focus on tackling infections has been working effectively.

Basic measures

"It isn't just about extra investment and tighter regulation - it's also about ensuring that everyone follows the hand-washing routine, the bare below the elbows dress code, the proper hygiene measures and responsible prescribing of antibiotics - which is particularly important in relation to C difficile."

The guidance tells trusts to support control and reduction of C difficile "from board level downwards, prioritising the management of risk to patients and ensuring that the safety of patients is not compromised by the pursuit of other strategic objectives".

Trusts must ensure they have enough space to be able to isolate patients diagnosed with the condition.

It also contains advice for clinicians on how to care for patients with suspected C difficile.

To read the guidance, go to www.dh.gov.uk