Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

The truth about Ulster superbug deaths

Over 450 patients linked to hidden killers

The deaths of more than 450 patients in Northern Ireland hospitals since 2001 have been linked to superbugs, the Telegraph can reveal today.

Figures obtained by the Telegraph reveal the full extent of the superbug crisis facing our health service.

Earlier this year Health Minister Michael McGimpsey revealed a multi-million plan aimed at reducing the spread of Healthcare Associated Infections (HCAI) such as MRSA and Clostridium Difficile.

These infections have contributed to the deaths of 459 people in Northern Ireland in the last six years, according to the statistics from the General Registrar Office.

Last year, CDifficile played a part in the deaths of 77 people - with 30 deaths occuring during the final three months of the year - partly down to a jump in fatal cases of the superbug at Antrim Area Hospital and Whiteabbey Hospital during that period.

Almost half of the 77 deaths of patients at Ulster hospitals where CDifficile was mentioned on the death certificate last year had been treated at Antrim Area Hospital and the Ulster Hospital, with 18 and 13 deaths respectively.

And last month, there were 10 cases of CDifficile at Antrim Area Hospital while 11 patients at the Ulster Hospital were being treated for the superbug just one week ago.

Statistics from the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre show there have been 1,490 instances of patients infected with MRSA since 2001, with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust recording 666 episodes - 108 cases last year alone.

The five hospitals worst hit by MRSA last year were the Royal Victoria with 45 cases, Belfast City with 33, the Ulster with 32, the Mater with 21 and Antrim Area Hospital with 20.

At the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, 82% of the MRSA cases last year occurred at the Ulster Hospital while MRSA cases at Antrim Area Hospital last year contributed to just under 45% of all MRSA patient episodes in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.

There has also been a steady increase in the number of deaths where MRSA was mentioned on the certificate from 17 in 2001 to 56 in 2006.

DUP MP Iris Robinson said that tackling health care acquired infections is a crucial challenge facing the NHS locally.

"It is disturbing when you hear individuals saying they would prefer not to go into hospital in case they contract an infection," she continued.

"Scrutinising the system is not helped when some trusts seem unable to provide up-to-date statistics.

"This is a complex problem and there is no simple single solution. There are a number of contributory factors all of which must be addressed by DHSSPS. A further £9m has recently been allocated by the Department to deal with this issue.

"It remains to be seen what impact the proposed new measures will have, but many of them have already been tried to a greater or lesser extent with little real evidence of improvement. The Health Minister has committed to reducing MRSA by 10% and Clostridium Difficile by 20%.

This represents a significant challenge." A spokesman from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said: "In January, Health Minister Michael McGimpsey announced an additional £9m in vestment over the next three years in a bid to improve patient safety and, in particular, to reduce the spread of Healthcare Associated Infections (HCAI) such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile across health trusts.

"The investment will fund a range of measures to reduce infections, including a new dress policy for staff and unannounced inspections. Earlier this month an environmental cleanliness audit showed a significant improve ment in standards across the majority of hospitals.

"HCAIs are a major concern for the public. While they can never completely be eradicated, Trusts are expected to take every possible step to minimise the risk of infection to patients. The department already has a number of policies in place to tackle HCAIs including the Changing the Culture action plan and the ward sister’s charter which aim to reduce infection and give nurses the power to create a cleanliness culture in their wards."

The spokesman also explained that last September, the Minister also announced new targets to reduce MRSA by 10% and CDifficile by 20%. Leaflets for the public on hand hygiene have been distributed, staff are receiving additional training and extra funding has been provided for the appointment of five new infection control nurses.

  • Superbugs CDifficile and MRSA have been mentioned on the death certificates of 459 patients in the past seven years.
  • Almost half the 77 deaths where CDifficile was mentioned on the death certificate in 2007 had been treated at Antrim Area Hospital and the Ulster Hospital.
  • There have been 1,490 cases of MRSA in Northern Ireland hospitals since 2001.
  • The five hospitals worst hit by MRSA last year were the Royal Victoria with 45 cases, Belfast City with 33, the Ulster with 32, the Mater with 21 and Antrim Area Hospital with 20.
  • MRSA featured on the death certificate of 17 patients in 2001 to 56 in 2006.

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