CASES of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA have been halved at St George’s Hospital in the last three years, according to new figures published earlier this week.

According to a Government report there were 54 cases of MRSA bloodstream infections at St George’s Hospital between April and September 2001. This fell to 28 cases in the same six-month period in 2004.

Commenting on the figures, the hospital’s infection control doctor Aodhan Breathnach said:

“The figures are certainly encouraging and while it is reassuring to see the campaign we mounted several years ago to curb the spread of infections and improve standards of hygiene is starting to pay off, no-one is in the mood for celebrating just yet.

“Cleanliness and hygiene continue to be very important priorities both for us and our patients, and we still have some way to go before we reduce cases of MRSA to an absolute minimum.”

St George’s has introduced an array of measures to halt the spread of infections to patients staying in hospital.

The hospital has campaigned for better hand hygiene among doctors and nurses by encouraging the use of a disinfectant alcohol gel which has been made available on every ward.

It also screens patients for MRSA when they are transferred from other hospitals and nursing homes, and has appointed a specialist team of nurses to supervise the safe placing of intravenous lines.

Though the 50 per cent cut in infections is welcomed by the hospital, it adds it is powerless to stop MRSA entering the trust altogether.

“A third of the MRSA cases we treat here at St George’s are patients who have caught the infection in another hospital or in the community,” Dr Breathnach continues.

“There is very little we can do to stop this happening, apart from screen the patients most at risk, treat them for the infection, and stop that infection spreading to other patients.”

This can only happen, says the hospital, with the co-operation of patients and the general public. Patients and visitors are therefore being persuaded to clean their hands before they enter and leave wards, and to challenge doctors and nurses who fail to practice good hand hygiene.

In related news, St George’s has appointed a pharmacist to regulate the use of antibiotics in the hospital.

Scientists link the rise of MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria to the medical world’s uncontrolled prescribing of antibiotics in recent decades.

By regulating the supply of antibiotic prescriptions, the hospital hopes to slow down the development of the organisms.