Cases of a notorious hospital bug may be going unreported because of the threat of Government-imposed fines, it is claimed today.
More than half of specialist clinicians questioned for a survey believe the true number of deaths associated with Clostridium difficile is higher than official figures suggest.
A fifth claim this is because doctors are under pressure to under-report cases to avoid financial penalties on NHS trusts.
C.diff is a bug spread on the hands and on contaminated surfaces that causes diarrhoea and in vulnerable patients it can go on to prove fatal.
The nationwide survey on behalf of two patient groups, C-Diffsupport and the National Concern for Healthcare Infections, was funded by the pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma Ltd.
According to the latest Health Protection Agency figures, C.diff infection rates in English hospitals have fallen five-fold since 2006 to affect one in 250 patients.
But of the clinicians polled, nearly a third thought the actual incidence of C.diff infection had “flatlined” or even increased over the past few years.
Microbiologist and panel member Prof Mark Wilcox, of Leeds University, said there was still room for improvement.
“We must avoid complacency and ensure C.diff infection is appropriately contained by optimising diagnosis, improving treatment and ensuring that systems for reporting C.diff infection are as accurate as possible,” he said.
Health Minister Simon Burns said: “This survey is not representative – it only questioned 101 people out of the entire NHS workforce. However, it remains absolutely unacceptable for cases of C.diff not to be reported.
“We have issued strong and clear guidelines on how C.diff cases should be reported and expect these to be followed.”