Managers will be consulted on a new “zero tolerance” target to slash MRSA infection rates.

The target, to be called an “objective”, is expected to be in the next operating framework.

Department of Health associate director of healthcare associated infections Janice Stevens told HSJ a consultation would be launched “imminently” to ask NHS managers where permitted levels of minimal avoidable MRSA infections should be set.

She was speaking last Tuesday after addressing the Westminster Health Forum, where she told delegates that the aim was “zero tolerance” of MRSA infections.

In an earlier presentation, DH inspector of microbiology and infection control Brian Duerden said wiping out infections was a “biological impossibility”.

Ms Stevens told HSJ that, bearing Professor Duerden’s comments in mind, the MRSA objective would be about creating a “philosophical intolerance” towards infections.

She did not know whether there would be a penalty for trusts exceeding permitted MRSA levels, but said the move was aimed at creating an aspirational standard rather than sparking punishment.

The target to halve MRSA infection rates across the NHS from 2004 to April 2008 was met, but not all trusts reduced rates by the same proportion.