THE rate of patients who suffer bloodstream infections with the superbug MRSA is still relatively high, a new report warns.
Although the rates have decreased, Ireland still compares with the UK and southern Europe, which have the worst record compared with the Nordic countries, and the Netherlands, which have seen cases of this kind of infection plummet.
The warning comes in the wake of the recent damning HIQA inspection reports on a number of hospitals, which found serious lapses in infection control, including a failure by many staff, particularly doctors, to wash their hands between patients.
The latest report on MRSA, which can be fatal for some patients, shows that the number of reported MRSA bloodstream infections decreased steadily over the last six years from 592 in 2006 to 242 in 2012, representing a reduction of 59pc.
At the end of March this year, there were 48 reports compared with 72 for the same period in 2012 and 103 in 2009.
These laboratory-confirmed cases only represent a proportion of the true numbers who fall victim to bloodstream MRSA infections here, but they give an indication of trends.
It is also worth remembering that MRSA is only one of several hospital-acquired infections patients can pick up, and they can be equally severe.
The largest hospitals tend to have the highest amount of cases due to a number of factors, including the fact they are caring for some of the sickest and most vulnerable patients and also because people bring the bug with them if they are transferred from another hospital.
Hospitals that had the highest number last year included St James's, Beaumont, and Tallaght, Waterford Regional, the Mater, Cork University Hospital, Letterkenny, Limerick Regional, Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, and St Vincent's Hospital.
Among the public hospitals that did not record any cases of MRSA were Cappagh Orthopaedic Hospital in Dublin and Limerick Orthopaedic Hospital in Croom, both of which have no emergency department.
Rates of MRSA are also falling in other parts of Europe and in 2011, six countries reported a decreasing trend – including Ireland and the UK – while only four countries reported a rise.
Infection control experts say it is unclear why rates are falling, and although better practices in hospitals are a factor it may also be linked to natural changes in the organism that causes it to emerge and then retreat.