are Healthcare-Associated Infections?
Healthcare-Associated Infections (HCAIs) are those infections
that develop as a direct result of any contact in a
healthcare setting. They occur in hospitals and in the
community and affect both patients and healthcare workers.
There are many causes of HCAI, but they are most commonly
caused by the contaminated hands of healthcare workers,
contaminated medical devices, and a failure of staff to
comply with local policies, procedures and guidelines.
In recent years there has been a lot of media publicity
surrounding drug-resistant infections such as
Staphlococcus aureus (MRSA). Many newspapers have
referred to MRSA as the 'Super Bug' or 'Killer Bug' and
sometimes focused on drug-resistant infections as if they were
the only HCAI.
However, while it is true that MRSA and other drug-resistant
infections are currently a major problem for many healthcare
services around the world, there are many other infections
that are just as harmful and just as important to control.
Clostridium difficile is a common cause of diahorrea in
hospitals, Acinetobacter also causes HCAI, particularly in
patients in intensive care units, and norovirus causes
sickness and vomiting.
The Effects of HCAI
Every year at least 300,000 patients develop an HCAI and it
is estimated that around 1 in 10 patients pick up an
infection during their stay in a UK hospital. These
infections are often difficult to treat and they can
complicate illnesses, cause distress to patients and their
family, and in some cases may even lead to death.
If a patient gets an HCAI, it may:
Make their existing
medical condition worse;
Make their stay in
• Cause them pain, depression and stress;
Lead to a loss of earnings;
• Reduce their chances of successful recovery.
On average, patients with an HCAI have been found to
be around 7 times more likely to die in hospital
than uninfected patients. It is estimated that as
many as 5,000 patients die each year in the UK as a
direct result of HCAI and it is one of the factors
contributing to another 15,000
Impact on NHS
As well as affecting patients, HCAIs are also a serious burden on the
NHS. These infections are costing the NHS an estimated £1 billion a
year and are also having a major impact on the availability of beds,
because infected patients have to spend, on average, an extra 11
days in hospital. Furthermore, infected patients cost 3 times more
to treat than uninfected patients and infections are becoming
difficult to treat because of an increase in antimicrobial
resistance. Some of the other costs to the NHS include:
Treatment for staff;
• Extra costs.
Unfortunately, not all HCAIs can be prevented; they are often the
price we pay for advances in medicine. But with good practice and
careful hygiene, it has been estimated that around 15% to 30% could
Everyone working in healthcare and healthcare research has a role to
play in helping to prevent the spread of infection. As such, it
is our responsibility to do everything we can to protect patients
click here to open a link to the
Current News section of the NHS's
Clean Safe Care website which is
primarily designed as an information
hub for healthcare staff but is
accessible to all.
June 2009 Report
click here to open a link to the
National Audit Office's
report, Reducing Healthcare
Associated Infections in Hospitals