New weapon to tackle MRSA

A British researcher has developed a new test that should help doctors identify the presence of the MRSA "superbug" more quickly.

The scientist, based at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, has created a test which can detect a particular strain of MRSA in hours, rather than days, helping to stop the disease spreading.

The test provides a detailed picture of the bacterium's genetic structure enabling hospitals to better discover the source of the infection.

However, at a cost of £15 a patient, the test could prove expensive. Current tests cost between £5 and £8 each.

The announcement comes on the same day that Health Secretary John Reid is meeting leading scientists at a summit in London on hospital-acquired infections. Last month, Dr Reid announced targets to dramatically cut the number of MRSA infections by half by March 2008.

MRSA affects thousands of hospital patients each year and the National Audit Office estimates hospital-acquired infections kill 5,000 people each year. The MRSA bacterium is resistant to nearly all antibiotics.

Speaking today, Dr Reid urged scientists to find ways to translate research into practical recommendations for clinical practise. He said: "I've said before that I will leave no stone unturned in the battle against the superbug. In the past, people ignored this problem but now we must examine every idea and every initiative in order to protect patients from infection.

"If we are to effectively combat MRSA, it's not only a question of cleanliness - science can also help in the battle against this ever-mutating superbug. Scientific research is vitally important in this area but it needs to be harnessed into practical applications to benefit patients through controlling and preventing infection. This is the challenge for these top scientists over these two days."

But health service union Unison called on the Government to concentrate on the basics - cleaners. General secretary Dave Prentis, said: "You don't need the best brains in Europe to realise that clean hospitals are the key to beating superbugs. Instead of looking under stones, the Government should be looking under hospital beds, to make sure the wards are clean and infection free.

"Only today Government released statistics show that the number of cleaners in the NHS is down to 55,000 for 2003 - 2004. This means that in the last 15 years the number of cleaning staff have dropped from nearly 100,000 to 55,000. Is it any wonder that Unison is campaigning to get more cleaners into hospitals?"