Hospital bugs, including surgery infections, E. Coli and pneumonia, are not being contained effectively because of the NHS’ lack of electronic systems to issue and track antibiotic prescriptions.
That is according to the Committee of Public Accounts, which criticised the NHS because it had "chosen to ignore” recommendations five years ago to create and use such a system. There was also a failure to collect strong information on the infections themselves.
It said the NHS had “taken its eye off the ball” while it looked to reduce superbugs such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. Many other hospital infections were “just as deadly” and needed to be tackled, it stated in the ‘Reducing healthcare associated infection in hospitals in England’ report.
"One of the greatest threats to infection control is the increase in antibiotic resistance but generally hospitals do not yet have robust electronic prescribing systems that enable them to monitor whether antibiotics are being used effectively,” it said. Every year over 300,000 patients in England develop a healthcare associated infection whilst in hospital.
Tracking the antiobiotics’ use was vital in seeing how resistant the infections were becoming to the drugs, it said. Yet NHS systems were unable to clearly link records of illnesses with data on prescriptions.
The committee said it was disappointed that in spite of “the huge investment” in the £12.7 billion National Programme for IT, “there is still not the IT capability to do this”.
The national programme needed to be developed “immediately” so that it covers “the hardware and software needed to support the collection of national surveillance data, including effective links between microbiology, pathology, prescribing and patient administration”, the committee said.
"Healthcare associated infections cost the NHS more than £1 billion per year and can lead to serious disability and in some cases death,” said Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee.
“This is the third time that this committee has reported on the subject and it is disappointing that the Department of Health still has not taken on board a number of key recommendations.”
The MPs insisted on a progress update in the next two months.
A spokesperson at the Department of Health said the NHS was working with suppliers to develop e-prescriptions in hospitals. But, she said, the rollout faced the challenge of "the need to meet the requirements of different professional groups and clinical specialties".
Progress was being made in areas such as common terminology and presentation of the information, she said.
The news comes as the NHS' national system providers, BT and CSC, near a deadline at the end of the month on another part of the national programme - creating a workable patient records system.
Last week the NHS issued a more detailed set of requirements it expected to see from the providers. If these are not met, the NHS has said the suppliers could face termination.