Exclusive The NHS is spending tens of millions of pounds – and more than £300 per positive test – to detect a tiny fraction of patients with MRSA in the community, a Pulse investigation has found.
Current national policy is to screen every patient admitted to hospital for elective surgery for MRSA infections, with patients found to be colonised returned to their GP who is responsible for treating the infection.
But figures uncovered through a request made under the Freedom of Information Act have shown that on average just 1.6% of nearly five million patients screened since the policy was introduced in April 2009 tested positive for MRSA – at an estimated cost of £335 per positive test.
When the scheme was launched the Department of Health estimated an infection rate of at least 6% from the universal testing regime.
The responses reveal an average cost of the scheme of nearly £270,000 per hospital trust and a total cost of £27 million – or £81million if extrapolated to all 300 hospital trusts in England – prompting GP leaders to question whether the scheme provides value for money
Pulse reported in October 2009 that MRSA cases detected through screening of elective admissions constituted only 7% of the total number of reported MRSA bacteraemia cases in England for the financial year 2008/9.
Some 100 hospital trusts in England responded to Pulse requests under the Freedom of Information Act asking how many pre-elective surgery patients they had tested since 1 April 2009, how many had tested positive and how much it had cost.
Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which has been the subject of a Government inquiry into poor standards in infection control, tested 35,792 patients and found just six people, or 0.01%, were colonised.
The revelations came as new figures showed that MRSA bloodstream infections in the NHS fell to record low of 97 cases recorded June.
BMA council member Dr Helena McKeown, a GP in Salisbury, told Pulse the MRSA screening policy needed to be better targeted.
She said: ‘We need to have a proper look at whether there are similarities between the one to 2% of patients that are testing positive to see if we can target and use the resource more wisely. There seems to be potential to save some resources there in the context of the current financial climate for the NHS.’
Pulse revealed in May that DH had placed the policy under review amid concerns that the policy was based on an over estimate of MRSA rates.
A spokesperson said: ‘The DH has funded a national audit of MRSA screening. The findings from the audit will be published in due course.’