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Clostridium: Screening

Volume 471: debated on Thursday 31 January 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when his Department’s screening programme for clostridium difficile on admission to hospital will begin; and what budgetary provision he has made for the programme in each financial year to 2010-11. (178031)

We are introducing universal screening for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus for all elective patients by March 2009 and for all emergency patients as soon as possible over the next three years, supported by funding of £130 million per year by 2010-11. This will reduce the likelihood of a patient developing a clinical infection or passing it on to others in hospital who may be vulnerable.

We have considered whether universal screening of patients for Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is the best way forward for the national health service. However, the current clinical evidence does not suggest that universal screening would be clinically, or cost, effective as universal screening would not identify the majority of patients who might be carrying C. difficile bacteria, and patients without symptoms are not considered to present an increased risk of infecting others. This is why we are targeting high risk patients for C. difficile screening. All over 65s in hospital with diarrhoea already should be screened for C. difficile as set out in current guidance. This will ensure the infection is identified quickly and appropriate measures are taken to treat the patient and minimise infection of other patients.

The measures for tackling healthcare associated infections such as C. difficile are set out in Health Protection Agency guidance, the “Saving Lives” programme and “Clean, safe care” strategy. Additional investment of £270 million funding per year by 2010-11 has been identified in the comprehensive spending review to support infection control and cleanliness in the NHS.

We will keep the clinical evidence for further C. difficile screening under review and will act quickly in response to new and emerging evidence.