This week news broke of a serious outbreak of the superbug Clostridium difficile at Ennis General Hospital last year. A damning report published by the HSE, listed a litany of problems at the hospital. The hospital has since taken appropriate action to bring the situation under control but the response from the HSE is less than encouraging.
The extent of the problem in Ennis came to light when routine laboratory surveillance showed up higher levels of infection at the hospital than would be expected. The review, conducted by two assistant national directors with the HSE, found that in total 46 elderly female patients became infected with this superbug within the first 6 months of 2007 and of these 21 had died by the end of the year. Clostridium difficile was not listed in any of the cases as a primary cause of death though it was listed as a contributory factor in 13 of the deaths. The report published by the HSE yesterday concluded that the contributing factors included overcrowding, poor hygiene, high bed occupancy rate, faulty equipment and staff shortages. In all, it made 15 recommendations in relation to improvements which should be made at the hospital. It also recommended that a national reference laboratory be established to improve control of this superbug. Ennis General Hospital has already implemented changes and levels of this dangerous bug are now very low at the hospital.
The HSE’s response to this report was “The HSE will ensure that learning from this specific incident is applied nationally and on that basis will be holding a briefing session with hospital and other appropriate healthcare managers in coming weeks“.
Meanwhile, last Tuesday I read in this week’s edition of Healthplus, published by the Irish Times that “The Health Service Executive (HSE) West has sought to allay concerns about the impact of current financial cutbacks on laboratory testing for MRSA. Restrictions on testing for the MRSA superbug have been implemented as part of State-wide HSE stringencies since September last“.
So at the same time as alarming rates of the superbug, Clostridium difficile were coming to the fore in Ennis, the HSE implemented cutbacks which have directly affected laboratory staffing levels and caused “service restrictions“. This week’s report clearly recommended that laboratory services should be increased and improved and yet we hear that the HSE continues to restrict services in this area. The cutbacks introduced last September have also had a knock-on effect on the problems of overcrowding, poor hygiene, bed occupancy rate, supply of equipment and staff recruitment in our hospitals – all the factors listed in the Ennis report as contributing to cross infection.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that we have an infection control crisis in the making. The cutbacks across the country are giving superbugs free rein to march. The failure of hospital management and senior health officials to appreciate this real and growing threat, is putting lives at risk. I rest my case.