Two of the deadliest hospital superbugs have helped cause the deaths of at least 427 patients in Northern Ireland over the past five years, it was revealed last night.

The serious threat of hospital- acquired infections was underlined by new Government figures which detail how many deaths have been officially registered as linked to MRSA and Clostridium Difficile since 2002.

And, for the first time, C Difficile has overtaken MRSA as the biggest superbug killer in our hospitals.

According to the figures, released by Finance Minister Peter Robinson, there have been 225 MRSA-linked deaths in Northern Ireland in the past five years - 15% of them in the former Craigavon Area Hospital Trust.

That is compared to 202 deaths in which C Difficile was a factor at the province's hospitals over the five-year period.

Stormont Health committee member Carmel Hanna, a former nurse, called on Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to bring in new measures announced by his Westminster counterpart, Alan Johnson, this week.

Mr Johnson told the Labour Party conference that matrons would be empowered to "fight infection on the front line" and that a new regulator - Ofcare - will be given powers to fine dirty hospitals and close wards.

He said "real progress" was being made against MRSA but the " war" against C Difficile must be intensified.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also pledged extra cash to hospitals so they can "deep clean" wards to tackle bugs.

Ms Hanna, an SDLP MLA for South Belfast, said: "I think the minister should look very hard at what Westminster is proposing and introduce it here, " she said.

"There is no point in just doing a good spring clean of every ward. That hygiene must be maintained and monitored to make sure standards don't slip," she said.

While the antibiotic resistant MRSA has been linked to more deaths overall since 2002, cases of fellow superbug C Difficile have been on a rapid rise in the past five years when the number of related deaths nearly trebled.

In 2002, 26 deaths were registered with a link to C Difficile compared with 63 last year.

Meanwhile, MRSA helped cause 56 deaths last year, a drop of 13 on the year before.

The MRSA figures also broke down into which of the former hospital trusts the patient was being cared for at the time of their death - but this does not necessarily mean that is where the superbug was caught.

Ulster Unionist MLA Sam Gardiner said he was alarmed that there have been more MRSA- linked deaths at the Craigavon Area Hospital group than any other - 35 in total since 2002.

"This is not the kind of table Craigavon wants to be at the head of. It is a table of death."