Hospitals across the Midlands are losing the battle against the MRSA superbug, with more than half the region's health trusts reporting an increase in cases.
Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital once again reported the highest infection rate in the country - and admitted cases were up by a fifth compared with last year.
Unions warned England was fast becoming the "superbug capital" of Europe.
And the Department of Health warned it would introduce tough new punishments for hospital trusts which failed to obey hygiene regulations.
Across the country there were 7,212 cases in 2004-5, down 472 on the year before.
However, official figures released yesterday showed the problem was getting worse in eight of the 15 hospital trusts in the West Midlands.
The figures compare the 12 months leading up to March 2005 with the same period a year previously.
University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Edgbaston and Selly Oak Hospital, revealed the number of cases had risen from 123 to 152.
The number of cases per 1,000 bed days, the official measurement used by the NHS, was 0.433 - the highest in the country.
Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs City Hospital in Birmingham and Sandwell General Hospital, revealed infections had risen from 82 to 94.
In Good Hope Hospital, Birmingham, MRSA cases rose from 26 to 31.
Infection rates also increased at the trusts operating New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton, Hereford County Hospital, Queen's Hospital in Burton, Manor Hospital and Goscote Hospital in Walsall, and Stafford and Cannock hospitals.
But Birmingham Women's Hospital suffered no cases at all, for the second year running.
Large specialist hospitals, which care for the sickest patients and carry out the most invasive procedures, are likely to have higher rates of MRSA and other infections. However, every hospital has been ordered by Ministers to ensure infection rates drop.
Health Minister Jane Kennedy said cases of MRSA had fallen across the country.
But she added: "This progress must happen throughout the NHS, and much more work needs to be done."
Ms Kennedy said the Government would soon start a consultation on a hygiene code, with sanctions for trusts who continue to fail to come up to scratch.
Dr Martin Gill, Head of Infection Control said at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said the hospital had reduced infection rates in previous years.
He added: "We have invested £347,000 in a range of infection control measures, including more specialist doctors and nurses in the infection control team and additional spending on domestic staff, including dedicated on-call teams."
The hospital's new £521 million hospital, set to open in four years, had been designed with infection control in mind, he said.
Karen Jennings, Head of Health with public sector worker union Unison, warned that England was becoming the "superbug capital" of Europe.