Sheffield hospitals told ‘clean up your act’

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SHEFFIELD hospitals face being fined up to £500,000 as they struggle to hit government targets for beating the superbug C difficile.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been tasked with driving down incidents of the bug at the Northern General, Hallamshire, Jessop Wing maternity, Weston Park and Charles Clifford dental hospitals.

But at the end of August, just five months into the financial year, 115 people had already been found with C diff - forcing bosses to admit they are likely to breach their target of no more than 134 cases for the year.

If they go over 134 cases they will be fined for every new incident on a sliding scale which tops out at a total of £500,000 if they hit 184 - the same number experienced last year.

Hospital directors have called in two former Department of Health professors and a Health Protection Agency officer to review their procedures, and are looking to employ 10 new housekeepers to control the spread of the bug.

Clostridium difficile is a contagious bug which causes serious diarrhoea and can lead to a severe infection of the colon. It can be life-threatening, especially for the elderly.

The trust said nobody had died from the bug in its hospitals this year, and stressed that levels of the bug had plummeted 70 per cent since 2007.

The Department for Health set the trust a target of continuing the reduction by 27 per cent this year.

But instead the trend has been reversed in the first five months of the year, according to a report to the trust’s governing council.

Deputy chief nurse Chris Morley said in the report: “The target required a 27 per cent reduction in the number of cases.

“The trust has not achieved this reduction in cases and has experienced a rise in the rates of C diff during the first five months of the year.”

He said there was ‘no single cause’ for the higher rates of C diff, but contributory factors included contamination on wards, high levels of bed occupancy and more patients being prescribed antibiotics which could make them more likely to get the bug.

An action plan to control the bug includes increasing the size of a deep cleaning team and rapid response cleaning team to reduce contamination, and temporarily expanding the infection control nursing team.

Mr Morley has also been asked to speak to other hospitals which have suffered problems with C diff to see how they coped.

Chief executive Sir Andrew Cash said in a report to governors they were employing three experts to look at the problem and a thorough review would make sure ‘everything that can be done is being done to ensure that this position improves as rapidly as possible’.

Professor Hilary Chapman, chief operating officer and chief nurse, told The Star: “We want to reassure patients that this is not an issue of the number of C difficile cases suddenly rising dramatically within our hospitals.

“Indeed due to the hard work of staff we have continued to see a year-on-year reduction in the number of cases.

“Since 2007 there has been a 70 per cent reduction. However we are determined to continue to drive down the number of cases of C difficile and so we have invested over a million pounds to support our staff in doing this.”

Superbug in numbers:

115 - the number of people who have contracted C diff in Sheffield hospitals in five months

134 - the maximum number of cases allowed by Government targets

£500,000 - the amount the hospitals face being fined for missing the target

70 per cent - the fall in the percentage of cases of C diff since 2007