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Hunt aims to halve ‘merciless killer’ E. coli infections by 2020

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt has launched new plans to halve the number of gram-negative infections in the NHS by 2020 at an Infection Control Summit.

Measures announced include more money for hospitals that make the most progress in reducing infection rates with a £45m quality premium, independent CQC inspections focusing on infection prevention and displaying E. coli rates on wards to make them more visible to patients and visitors.

E. coli infections – which represent 65% of gram-negative infections – killed over 5,500 NHS patients last year and are predicted to cost the NHS £2.3bn by 2018, with infection rates varying widely between hospitals. It is hoped that these new plans will build on the progress generally made in infection control since 2010.

“The NHS can rightly be proud that in the last 6 years we’ve reduced the number of MRSA cases by 57% and C. difficile by 45%,” Hunt said. “These aren’t abstract numbers – they show that we have prevented the needless suffering – sometimes fatal suffering – of over 60,000 people in that period.

“Because every avoidable infection also has a financial cost, we know that progress has also saved the NHS over half a billion pounds.

E. coli infections have increased by 20% over the last five years with a third of infections now resistant to antibiotics. Infection rates can often be cut with better hygiene and improved patient care, such as ensuring that staff and patients regularly wash their hands and the proper insertion of catheters.

The programme will also look to improve existing training and information sharing and will be overseen by a new national infection and prevention lead, Dr Ruth May, the executive director of nursing at NHS Improvement.

Speaking of the plans, Dr May said: “This is a clear plan to achieve real change across the NHS focusing on a combination of strict oversight from the CQC and the collection, publication and intelligent use of data which will ensure organisations improve infection control and help us to make sure poor performers get the support they need to improve quickly.”

In addition to the plan to reduce E. coli rates, Hunt announced that an additional £60m will be allocated to the Getting It Right First Time programme. This programme seeks to improve patient experience by replacing the work of the best clinicians across numerous surgical specialties. This expansion will focus on infection control in the hope of saving £1.5bn a year.

Hunt commented that, taken together, the measures are intended to achieve a ‘dramatic reduction’ in hospital infections, improving staff knowledge of when to use antibiotic, saving time and money and reducing human suffering. 

“Most of all,” he said, “they will be another vital step in making NHS care something we can all be proud of as the safest and highest quality anywhere on the planet.”

The Royal College of Nursing praised the announcement of the plans, calling them ‘essential’ in tackling the ‘merciless killer’ of infections as more strains become resistant to traditional antibiotics.

“Nursing staff have a significant role to play in limiting the threat from antimicrobial resistance and it’s crucial they receive the training, guidance and resources to transform these plans into real improvements for NHS patients,” said Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary.

“This is a critical time for our health service. If we get this right, we will not only save lives by improving infection control but also improve the long term outlook for the whole NHS.”

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