Infection outbreak at Sheffield Northern General Hospital

The Northern General Hospital in Fir Vale, Sheffield
The Northern General Hospital in Fir Vale, Sheffield
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WARDS at a Sheffield hospital are ‘under surveillance’ following outbreaks of the potentially deadly infection C.Diff, writes Richard Blackledge.

Stringent controls have been put in place at the Northern General Hospital in Fir Vale, after three wards each reported at least two episodes of the bug in less than a month.

In severe cases, C.Diff – short for clostridium difficile – can prove fatal in the weak and elderly, with complications ranging from bowel perforation to blood poisoning.

Wards on the watch list at the Northern General are Firth 2 and Firth 8 - for people recovering from surgery - and general respiratory ward Brearley 3.

So far this year there have been 87 cases of C.Diff across Sheffield Teaching Hospitals – nearing the local maximum limit of 112.

The surveillance measures were reported in a monthly update to the board of directors at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which manages the city’s biggest health facilities, including the Royal Hallamshire, Weston Park and Northern General hospitals, as well as the Jessop maternity wing.

The report also revealed the trust has breached a Government target to cut cases of the MRSA infection among patients.

Department of Health chiefs set the trust a strict target of just one hospital-acquired case of MRSA for 2012/13 - but three have been reported since last April.

MRSA causes infections in patients with wounds or weakened immune systems, and in severe cases can lead to infections of the bones, heart and lungs, as well as abscesses.

In addition, there have been more than 200 cases of stomach bug E Coli in the last 12 months across the trust.

Once a ward is placed under surveillance, a set of actions is triggered, including sending samples for laboratory testing, regular monitoring of patients and extra cleaning.

Prof Hilary Chapman, chief nurse at the trust, said the Government’s MRSA target was ‘very challenging’ because of Sheffield’s good performance at reducing past infection rates.

“We have rigorous cleaning and infection control practices in place in all our hospitals and community health services,” she said.

“We are among the best trusts in the country for low infection rates particularly for MRSA and C.Diff, and last year we had one MRSA bacteremia despite treating more than one million patients.

“We have not exceeded the MRSA targets set by the regulator, Monitor, or Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, but due to our good performance in previous years the target we have from the Department of Health is quite rightly very challenging.

“We will continue to look at all measures which will help us to further reduce our already low infection rates.”

Both C.Diff and MRSA are difficult to treat with conventional drugs, and many commercial antibacterial cleaners are not strong enough to wipe out the infections.

A Department of Health spokesman said Sheffield Teaching Hospitals would face penalties if it breached its local target for MRSA rates, currently 12 per year.

“We have made clear to the NHS that we expect zero tolerance of all MRSA bloodstream infections,” he said.

“These infections are at their lowest levels since mandatory reporting was introduced, and trusts are expected to have no hospital-acquired cases.

“Fines for hospitals that fail to meet their MRSA objectives are locally determined. We expect the local NHS to take all necessary steps to ensure occurrences are kept to an absolute minimum.”