A wide variety of healthcare is delivered in primary and community care settings. Healthcareassociated infections arise across a wide range of clinical conditions and can affect patients of all ages. Healthcare workers, family members and carers are also at risk of acquiring infections when caring for patients.
Healthcare-associated infections can occur in otherwise healthy individuals, especially if invasive procedures or devices are used. For example, indwelling urinary catheters are the most common cause of urinary tract infections, and bloodstream infections are associated with vascular access devices.
Healthcare-associated infections are caused by a wide range of microorganisms. These are often carried by the patients themselves, and have taken advantage of a route into the body provided by an invasive device or procedure. Healthcare-associated infections can exacerbate existing or underlying conditions, delay recovery and adversely affect quality of life.
Patient safety has become a cornerstone of care, and preventing healthcare-associated infections remains a priority. It is estimated that 300,000 patients a year in England acquire a healthcare-associated infection as a result of care within the NHS. In 2007, meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bloodstream infections and Clostridium difficile infections were recorded as the underlying cause of, or a contributory factor in, approximately 9000 deaths in hospital and primary care in England.
Healthcare-associated infections are estimated to cost the NHS approximately £1 billion a year, and £56 million of this is estimated to be incurred after patients are discharged from hospital. In addition to increased costs, each one of these infections means additional use of NHS resources, greater patient discomfort
and a decrease in patient safety. A no-tolerance attitude is now prevalent in relation to avoidable healthcare-associated infections.