A hospital trust is facing a possible fine of at least £300,000 after 39 patients were found to have a potentially fatal superbug.
The patients staying at hospitals run by Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust since April were diagnosed with the highly infectious clostridium difficile (C.diff).
The trust had set a target of reporting no more than 34 infections in the 12 months to the end of March.
Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group can fine hospital bosses £60,000 for each new case which passes the 34 maximum.
It means the total figure could potentially be even higher if more cases are recorded in the next two months.
C.diff causes diarrhoea and colitis, an infection of the intestines.
Elderly patients and those in intensive care are more vulnerable to the disease as they are the patients most often on antibiotics, which can help trigger the infection.
Cases peaked in December, with nine infections recorded, and there have been two incidents so far this month.
A trust spokesman said: “We investigate every case of C.diff in our hospitals and it is not unusual for there to be an increase of the infection in the winter months.
“Not all cases of C.diff are avoidable as sometimes the infection is a side effect of treating a patient's medical condition with the most effective antibiotics.
“Our investigations to date into the cases we've had show only seven can be considered avoidable and the majority of cases show no evidence of cross-infection of other patients.”
The trust has launched an action plan to tackle the issue, which includes continuing to focus on its use of antibiotics and prioritising testing all patients with diarrhoea within 48 hours of admission.
All patients with C.diff are also isolated in a single room to minimise risk of cross infection.