Superbug kills two at Huntingdon hospital

TWO patients at Hinchingbrooke Hospital have died after contracting the superbug Clostridium Difficile. One of the problems is a failure on the wards to wash hands. In both cases, C Diff was listed on the death certificate as the primary cause of deat

TWO patients at Hinchingbrooke Hospital have died after contracting the superbug Clostridium Difficile.

One of the problems is a failure on the wards to wash hands.

In both cases, C Diff was listed on the death certificate as the "primary cause" of death. The fatalities, in April, are now being investigated as "serious untoward incidents" by the Huntingdon hospital, which has been issued with a performance notice by the primary care trust, NHS Cambridgeshire.

A third patient died after contracting the bug, but C Diff was not believed to have been a contributing factor in the death.

The hospital says it has since reviewed the cases of the first two patients and now says that the bug was not a primary cause of death but that there will be no change on the patients' death certificates. It says stricter monitoring of the bug is now in place.

The hospital has not said if the patients were men or women but has confirmed that they were over 65. It says the number of cases of infection were down on the previous year.

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A spokesman for NHS Cambridgeshire explained that the hospital's current standard of performance "constitutes a material failure" to meet the requirements of its contract. Hinchingbrooke has been issued with a list of requirements that it must fulfil and hospital bosses must now meet the PCT every month to discuss progress.

The chief executive of NHS Cambridgeshire, Chris Banks, described the situation as one of "very significant concern" at a board meeting last month.

According to documents available to the public on the Hinchingbrooke website:

The hospital failed to meet its targets to reduce the number of C Diff cases last year.

It has been criticised for the "poor quality" of the data available on the highly contagious infection.

The hospital's own infection control report said there was "poor compliance" on hand hygiene. This is one of the most important preventive steps medical staff can take to halt the spread of infection.

In April this year, 12 people were confirmed to have the superbug at the hospital, including the two who died. This is double the target figure set by East of England Strategic Health Authority, the NHS's regional headquarters.

The infection control team's report, published at the time, shows that the hospital's isolation ward was full from January until April.

Statistics point to a link between high bed-occupancy and the increasing rate of C Diff. It also linked cases to three clinical areas: Spruce Ward, Walnut Ward and the Critical Care Centre.

In a bid to combat the spread of infection, Spruce Ward was closed for a deep clean. The hospital's infection control team (ICT) invited ward managers and staff to a C Diff workshop. The hospital also made a "significant investment" in employing an antibiotic pharmacist, who now reviews each case with the ICT, medical director and consultant microbiologist.

Following these steps, figures for May show a 75 per cent reduction in the number of confirmed cases on the previous month.

A spokesman for Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust said: "Hinchingbrooke regrets that it missed its target of fewer than 76 cases of Clostridium Difficile during the 08/09 financial year, reporting 82 cases.

"However, this was a reduction on the previous year when we reported 90 cases. The 2008/09 financial year also saw us meet our target of nine or fewer cases of MRSA, as the trust reported six cases.

"The trust's board has been assured that comprehensive action plans are in place and are being appropriately implemented.

"A significant number of elderly patients carry this organism, which unfortunately is sometimes triggered when treating an underlying disease.

"The two deaths were raised with the PCT and SHA under the Serious Untoward Incident procedure, followed by a senior medical review and root cause analysis of the cases, which concluded that C Diff was not the primary cause of death for either patient.

"These reports have been sent to the PCT with the request that the Serious Untoward Incident status is downgraded."


Clostridium difficile, or C Diff, is a bacterium that causes severe diarrhoea.

An infection with C Diff is usually caused by taking antibiotics, which kill normal "good" bacteria and allow C Diff to take over.

Patients on antibiotics, have a weakened immune system and may find it difficult to fight off and recover from the infection.

The infection is spread through spores, which need bleach to kill them.