Hospital data shows that the numbers of antibiotic resistant infections are rising, but gaps in this information make it difficult to know the scale of the problem.

Why was this work needed?

Carbapenemase-producing enterobacteriaceae (CPE) is a term to describe a particular group of bacteria that has developed resistance to a range of antibiotics. Once CPE enters the blood stream, it kills 40-50% of people who contract it. In recent years, cases of CPE being reported in hospitals in England have significantly risen, but the full extent of the problem is not known.

What happened?

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism asked all 136 NHS Trusts in England asking about cases of CPE. This revealed that at least 91 people infected with CPE had died since 2009 at 66 NHS trusts in England. Some of these people will have been seriously ill, regardless of the CPE infection, so CPE may not have been the cause of death.

Unfortunately, this figure represents a small part of the total picture as not all of the Trusts responded. Of the 136 Trusts approached, only 97 provided the requested data. To make matters worse, of the 97 compliant Trusts, nearly half did not record CPE data or could not extract it and 12 Trusts recorded infections, but not deaths.

A Trust which does not have the facilities to test for CPE itself will send samples to Public Health England (PHE). The Bureau of Investigative Journalism ascertained that in 2003 PHE received just 3 samples, but in 2015 it received 1,893. Some trusts which have a particular problem with CPE can do their own testing and so will not need to send samples to PHE, therefore, these figures may not be comprehensive.

What were the benefits?

This work gives an indication of the scale of this problem and can act as a spur to action for individual trusts and to PHE itself. However, the data is only partial. It is mandatory to report some infections, such as MRSA and C Difficile, to PHE, but that is not currently the case for CPE. Without comprehensive data illustrating the extent of the issue, it will be difficult to track and combat these infections.

What type of data was involved?

In cases where Trusts were collecting this data, the number of cases of CPE and number of deaths of people with CPE were shared.

This anonymised data was released in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Who funded and collaborated on this work?

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is an independent, not-for-profit media organisation, funded by donations.

Where can I go for more information?

Worse than MRSA: Doctors call for urgent action on deadly superbug threat