Patients at one of the region's biggest NHS Trusts may be routinely screened for MRSA before they are admitted, nursing staff have been told.

If they have been treated in a hospital or care centre - such as a nursing home - they will be tested for the superbug before being treated as inpatients within University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

Last month, the trust - which runs Queen Elizabeth and Selly Oak hospitals - recorded the third worst rate of MRSA in England.

But Paul Hateley, nurse consultant for infection control, said the new strategy, which is expected to be implemented later this year, would see an increase in reported MRSA cases.

"In my previous role at Bart's Hospital in London, where a similar system was introduced, we found 89 per cent of admissions brought the bug in with them," he said.

"I think we will see an increase in reported cases because we will be testing more people, but this 'seekand-destroy' initiative clearly works.

"We're not happy with where we are in the league tables and we do want to improve.

"It takes time to build up an effective programme and only now are we beginning to see some changes come to fruition."

Under the proposed screening scheme, patients would be tested for MRSA before being admitted to wards across the trust's sites.

While awaiting the results, which can take up to four days to process, they will be "proactively" treated with a nasal cream and told to use a disinfectant liquid soap.

After addressing more than 30 clinicians and nursing staff at Selly Oak Hospital yesterday, Mr Hateley - who joined the trust in January - said MRSA was just one of many infections staff had to tackle in hospitals.

Recent Government figures revealed the trust recorded 65 cases of MRSA between April and September last year, which equated to 0.37 cases per 1,000 bed days.

The national infection rate was 0.17 cases per 1,000 bed days.

Mr Hateley also claimed the growing emphasis on Government targets and league tables put undue pressure on staff who were treating more acute patients. He said: "The team here are moving things forward as quickly as they can, but in reality Rome wasn't built in a day and MRSA is just one infection we have to tackle.

"League tables are what make people sit up and listen, but before they were introduced not all hospitals were focused on tackling MRSA.

"In the past five or six years, a particularly virulent strain of epidemic MRSA has found its way onto the wards but, as more targets have been set, this has had an impact on effective infection control.

"The health service in 2005 is very different to what it was in 1975 - we treat more acute cases and, as a result, the patient community has a higher dependency on our care, which means staff working a lot harder."

Aided by a team of nurses, clinical scientists, microbiologists and a decontamination advisor, Mr Hateley is confident the trust can turn around its record on MRSA.

"We can knock about 30 per cent off MRSA infection rates in the UK through using some really basic practices," he said.

"But unless we work collectively with staff, patients and visitors on infection control programmes we are not going to achieve these objectives."