July 3, 2008

Doctors’ Failure to Wash Hands Holding Back Superbug Battle

By Gareth Rose

DOCTORS and consultants are failing to wash their hands, causing problems for health chiefs trying to hit Scottish Government targets aimed at protecting patients.

NHS Lothian wants them to follow the lead set by nurses who have proven themselves far more vigilant with hand hygiene.

The practice is growing in importance in Scotland, particularly after an outbreak of the superbug C Diff at the Vale of Leven Hospital caused nine deaths and played a part in nine more. Washing hands with soap and water stops the spread of the bug, while alcohol rubs prevent MRSA.

Health chiefs have already piloted two schemes aimed at improving handwashing standards - voiceboxes that remind people when they go in and out of wards, and ultraviolet lights which help people to see whether their hands have been properly washed.

They are presently deciding whether to introduce them on a permanent basis. However, it is understood future innovations will be focused on doctors.

In the first three months of 2008, 87 per cent of NHS Lothian complied with hand hygiene rules, just below the Scottish average and the 90 per cent target due to come into force by November.

New figures show there were 259 cases in the Lothians in the first three months of 2008.

Compared with the last three months of 2007, the rate rose slightly among elderly people - the most vulnerable group - in the Lothians as a whole, but stayed the same among hospital patients. Dr Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian, said: "

We are continuing to emphasise the importance of handwashing and good hand hygiene to staff."

As part of the patient safety campaign, NHS Lothian board members visit wards to make sure staff are meeting guidelines.

Across Scotland nurses are more than hitting their handwashing targets while medical professionals are lagging behind at around 78 per cent.

NHS Lothian, and other healthboards, plan to encourage senior doctors and consultants to follow nurses' lead.

Patient representatives believe hospital healthcare professionals are sometimes so busy they forget to wash their hands. They also want more to be done to educate patients and relatives about the roles they have to play.

Dr Jean Turner, of the Scotland Patients Association, said: "Handwashing is very important. The key is remembering what you've done since washing your hands and when you need to wash them again. If you have highly pressured staff it becomes difficult. If you get distracted by someone you might forget.

"Eighty-seven per cent is not good enough and I'm concerned that it's not higher. I think we should also remember to remind members of the public about washing their hands - that's very important too."

Originally published by Gareth Rose Health Reporter.

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