THE trust which runs Basingstoke hospital has been fined hundreds of thousands of pounds for repeatedly failing to control the gut infection Clostridium difficile.

Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has a yearly limit of 21 cases of C Diff before clinical penalties are imposed.

At the end of the third quarter, in December, the trust had already exceeded that target, with 33 cases of the infection.

With a financial penalty of £55,000 for each breach imposed by health watchdog Monitor, the trust has already paid out £660,000, and it faces further fines should more cases be reported in the final quarter of the financial year.

Speaking at a meeting of the Council of Governors, trust medical director Doctor Andrew Bishop said: “C Diff is an ongoing issue in clinical care. What is becoming clear is that trying to understand the causes of C Diff is difficult.

“Around 40 per cent of people who come into hospital will have this bug in their guts.”

Hospital patients are particularly prone to the infection. The use of antibiotics can cause the infection to thrive, because it will kill harmless bacteria in the gut as well as any bacteria that originally caused an infection. The removal of this harmless bacteria can allow C Diff to flourish.

Dr Bishop said: “What we have to be concerned about are the instances in which the infection is picked up in hospital.”

He reassured the Council of Governors that these instances were “vanishingly small”, according to research the hospital has carried out.

The meeting heard that hospital bosses are concerned at the impact the fines are having on the finances of the trust.

The trust, which runs Basingstoke, Winchester and Andover hospitals, is lagging behind its own financial plan with a deficit of £0.1million – £2.8million behind the planned surplus of £2.7million.

David French, financial director at the trust, said: “The problem that we face, in common with a lot of trusts, is that for every case over and above 21, we face a fine of £55,000.

“This has a significant effect on our profits.”

Hospital bosses have been in discussion with the health watchdog about whether the fines are fair, the meeting heard.