Truth about MRSA revealed

NEW figures today show the true extent of MRSA at Ipswich Hospital as bosses continue to battle to bring it under control.Hospital records, which take into account all new cases of the bug, show 1047 cases were diagnosed during 2004.

NEW figures today show the true extent of MRSA at Ipswich Hospital as bosses continue to battle to bring it under control.

Hospital records, which take into account all new cases of the bug, show 1047 cases were diagnosed during 2004 - the equivalent of 2.9 new cases a day.

This has risen from 944 or 2.6 new cases per day in 2003.

The figures are much higher than those released recently by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), which the government hailed as a sign MRSA is beginning to be brought under control.

The HPA figures only took into account MRSA detected in a blood.

Figures released by Suffolk police also show an increase in the number of deaths from MRSA.

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In 2002 the coroner's office dealt with one case where MRSA was recorded as a factor on a death certificate. In 2004 this rose to five.

The figures come as it was revealed that two-day-old baby Luke Day died from the killer superbug in Ipswich Hospital on February 3, leaving his teenage mother Glynis and father Kevin Fenton devastated.

A post-mortem examination concluded that Luke died from septicaemia caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

But after it did not appear on his death certificate the family have been left wondering how many other deaths have been caused by the deadly superbug.

Caroline Vergo, infection control nurse specialist at the hospital, said: "The figure of 1047 shows all patients found to have any sign of MRSA and the severity of this varies widely.

"It is an extremely small percentage of patients that are found to have MRSA, but I would like to see the figures a lot lower.

"The most important thing to remember is that MRSA is out there in the community, in nursing homes, residential homes, even gyms. Nobody is really exempt from it.

"Most people don't necessarily know they've got it and don't find out unless we have cause to swab them."

The hospital currently has one MRSA-free ward, where all patients are swabbed before they are admitted. It is used for patients who need hip and knee replacements.

Mrs Vergo said: "It would be wonderful to manage all wards like that but you can't do it because of the sheer volume of patients.

"We can't swab every single patient because the lab would not cope. It's just not possible."

There are plans, however, to introduce at least one other MRSA-free ward during the course of the next year. It is likely the first will be for patients who are having vascular surgery - i.e work on their veins and arteries.

Mrs Vergo said: "The patients we are focusing on are those patients who are most at risk, who are having operations where an infection of MRSA deep in a joint or in the blood stream could be very dangerous."

A key part of the hospital's fight against the infection is controlling the use of antibiotics.

Mrs Vergo said: "One of the reasons for its growth is that people have come to rely too much on antibiotics. There is an expectation you will get antibiotics to cure every ill.

"Within the hospital we are trying to curtail our use of antibiotics and have stopped using certain types."

The figures obtained by the Star also show that, at the end of December, four out of eight patients in the intensive care unit tested positive for the bug.

Mrs Vergo said this is not unusual because they are the most vulnerable patients.

She said: "There are very stringent infection control procedures in place on the unit because the patients here are amongst the most vulnerable. The risk factor for any infection is high.

"There is very good environmental cleanliness but we are pushed for space because there is so much equipment. This should all change when the Garrett Anderson Centre opens."

Concerns were also raised at the end of last year when it was revealed extra beds had had to be placed on some wards.

Mrs Collins said: "If you can increase space between patients then it makes it much easier to get round to clean. Having extra beds in wards is far from ideal but an extra bed never goes up in this organisation unless we know when it's coming down. They are taken down as quickly as possible."

Have you or your family had experience of MRSA at Ipswich Hospital? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to

What is being done?

In the last 12 months the hospital has introduced a wide range of measures designed to help combat the infection:

The number of specialist infection control nurses has been increased from one to three. They provide advice, education and information and have link nurses on every ward.

Modern matrons have been introduced.

The antibiotics policy has been reviewed.

Housekeepers have been introduced,

New disposable curtains have been put up and wards deep-cleaned.

In the last fortnight large yellow signs have been placed above the entrances to all wards to encourage people to wash their hands.

A Clean Your Hands campaign is about to be launched: Aimed at encouraging everyone in the hospital to use the alcoholic hand rub that is placed around the wards. In the run-up to this the National Patient Safety Agency will be monitoring the use of hand gel throughout the hospital. Mrs Collins said: "It is about getting the message through to everyone from visitors to bed managers, to porters - everyone who may be moving germs into or around the hospital."