A Birmingham hospital and a local university have joined forces to try and determine the extent of MRSA infection rates in the city.

Good Hope Hospital NHS Trust and Aston University are working to identify molecular-geographical links to infection in the community. This would allow the trust to establish in which areas of Birmingham people would be more likely to contract MRSA and other infectious diseases.

The work is part of a series of measures to try and tackle infection rates.

Consultant microbiologist Partha De told the hospital's annual general meeting last night that the Government had finally realised the extent of the danger of infectious diseases such as MRSA.

Mr De, clinical lead in infection control, said: "We believe the MRSA situation is much bigger than just in hospitals and maybe hospitals are just the tip of the iceberg."

He said the only way to reduce the risks of infectious disease was through greater awareness. Last year, the trust board approved a threeyear strategy to drive down infection rates and measures already taken include patients being encouraged to ask staff if they had washed their hands and hand gels by every bedside to encourage visitors to wash their hands.

The annual report lists the trust's recorded deficit as being about £3.5 million for 2004/05 and says it had agreed a recovery plan with the Birmingham and Black Country Strategic Health Authority to help it break even in the 2006/07 financial year.

Good Hope, which is managed by a private firm, Tribal Secta management, failed to improve its one-star rating when the Healthcare Commission issued its ratings.

However, Good Hope's chief executive Anne Heast said: "It was a very strong one star and I think people should feel very proud of that. I think we did exceptionally well and the demand for our services just keeps on rising."