The number of cases of superbug clostridium difficile (C Diff) at Epsom and St Helier hospitals has dropped dramatically in the past year thanks to effective counter measures by staff.

There were 36 recorded cases by the end of February, compared to 71 the previous year - which makes it likely that by the end of the financial year, last month, the trust will have had significantly fewer cases than its C Diff target of 47.

This will be the first time it has ever hit the challenging targets set by the Department of Health.

Despite reducing the number of cases by 75 per cent in the previous four years, the trust was fined £3.6m for failing to hit its target in 2012/2013.

C Diff is a bacterial infection which usually affects the elderly who have taken antibiotics and is transmitted via contaminated surfaces.

Its symptoms include high temperature, diarrhoea and stomach cramps and it can be life threatening, particularly if the patient is already very ill.

Control measures at the hospitals include identifying, isolating and testing patients; ensuring high cleaning standards were up to scratch; and regular checks on practices in all wards.

Last year the trust introduced additional ward-based pharmacists who review antibiotic prescribing and can challenge decisions by medical staff plus nurses who work alongside ward staff to ensure they take rapid and effective action as soon as patients start displaying symptoms of C Diff.

It also introduced a stricter antibiotic prescribing policy.

The woman in charge of the battle to control infections in the trust is its chief nurse, Pippa Hart, who appears on a number of infection control posters across the hospitals.

She said: "We are delighted to have seen a further reduction in the number of clostridium difficile infections in our hospitals, and will continue to focus on this area to bring down that number even further.

"Although we are proud of the progress we have made, we recognise that one hospital acquired infection is one too many, and are determined to continue to improve."

The final figures will not be confirmed until early next month.