||The Healthcare Commission has pledged to continue tough action in NHS trusts that are failing to put adequate systems in place to tackle healthcare-associated infections.
The Commission said it recognised concerns raised by patients and the public about poor practices in the control of infection. It will continue with a programme of wide-ranging inspections that will help to drive improvement in infection control.
Releasing the 2006/07 annual health check ratings for every NHS trust, the Commission said that the Government had raised the bar in relation to infection control with the introduction of the Hygiene Code in October 2006.
The code has been incorporated into the core standards trusts are required to meet, resulting in a more stringent assessment of trusts' infection control practices. Forty-four out of 172 acute and specialist trusts (hospital trusts) did not comply with at least one of the three core standards relating to infection control.
The Commission said these trusts need to do more on infection control but does not believe patients should regard them as unsafe. If this were the case, the Commission said it would take swift action.
It is currently carrying out its biggest programme of inspections of infection control. The programme is aimed at driving improvement in the control of infections such as Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) and methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
So far 87 inspections of infection control at hospitals have been carried out, either as part of the annual health check or as an unannounced visit to check on measures required by the Hygiene Code.
Trusts were selected for inspection on the grounds of risk, using a range of information, including rates of infection, complaints made to the Commission and information from surveys of patients.
A further 33 inspections will take place by the end of this financial year. All trusts with high rates of MRSA and C. difficile will be inspected as part of the programme.
From April next year, the Commission will step up its inspections on infection prevention and control. In line with the Government's recent announcement, it will inspect every hospital trust in England every year to assess how they are preventing and managing healthcare-associated infections.
Anna Walker, chief executive at the Commission, said: "We recognise that patients are genuinely frightened of catching a superbug in hospital. Although most patients receive safe and effective care in the NHS, the risk of suffering an infection is higher than it should be.
"I want to reassure patients that improving infection control is at the very top of our agenda. We are already out there checking trusts and, from next year, we will check every single hospital trust every year to ensure that everything possible is being done to protect patients and the public from healthcare-associated infections.
"We will not hesitate to use our powers under the Hygiene Code or through investigations to require trusts to make immediate improvements in their infection control practices if necessary.
"We've also made a series of recommendations to trusts following recent inspections. We've called on boards of trusts to give priority to infection control; to ensure that processes are in place across the trust to control infection; and to implement good policies on isolation; appropriate prescription of antibiotics; high standards of cleanliness; and training of staff.
"There is no silver bullet for healthcare-associated infections. It requires action across all of these areas and relentless attention to good practice for every patient every time.
"Rising rates of C. difficile are an international problem and we must come to terms with it. As a result of a major drive on MRSA we have seen rates of infection drop. We now need to see the same push on C. difficile."
In 2004/2005, trusts were set a challenging goal to halve rates of MRSA by 2008. Despite a steady decline in rates of MRSA, trusts will have to work hard to achieve this.