A helping hand
Hand hygiene is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of infections, writes Lorraine O’Hanlon
Germs can be spread from one person to another by hand contact unless hands are cleaned with either soap and water or alcohol hand gel or rub, making hand hygiene one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of infections.
The HSE has set a target of achieving over 90 per cent hand hygiene compliance by healthcare workers by 2013 and a new report from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) shows that compliance has improved across Galway University Hospitals (GUH) and Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe.
The report shows that the compliance rate among healthcare workers at GUH, which includes University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park Hospital, increased from just 54.8 per cent in June 2011 to 76.7 per cent in October 2011. The compliance rate also rose from 56.7 per cent to 70.5 per cent at Portiuncula Hospital.
Findings from 42 hospitals nationally show that the average hand hygiene score for all healthcare workers was 79.6 per cent in October 2011, up from 74.7 per cent in June 2011.
In its report, the HPSC noted that the average hand hygiene compliance by healthcare workers is broadly comparable with other countries, however improving compliance must be a priority.
For many hospital patients, healthcare-associated infections are a major concern and improving hand hygiene compliance by healthcare workers has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a key measure to reduce healthcare-associated infections.
Following admission to Irish hospitals, approximately one in 20 patients acquire an infection, while in long stay facilities one in 30 residents develop an infection. Hand hygiene is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of infections, including the common cold, flu, and even infections such as MRSA.
Infections picked up in hospitals can be harder to treat and patients can help protect themselves by asking staff and visitors to clean their hands.
All staff working in healthcare facilities should clean their hands:
- Every time they enter a patient’s room or bed area, before touching or administering care to patients
- Upon leaving the room, if they have touched the patient or any object in the room or bed area
- After removing gloves
Hospital visitors should clean their hands on arrival to the healthcare facility and before and after visiting their relative or friend.
Patients should clean their hands before preparing or eating food, before touching their eyes, nose or mouth, before and after touching dressings or medical devices (e.g. drips, catheters), after using the toilet, and after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing.
The HSE advises that patients use soap and water when their hands look dirty, after they use the bathroom and before they eat. Patients are advised to use an alcohol-based hand rub or gel when their hands look clean or if soap and water are not available.
Patients should use detergent hand wipes or request a bowl of water and soap when they are unable to access a sink after using the toilet, commode or bedpan, or when they are confined to bed.
Patients should also follow ward staff instructions, as soap and water are better at removing some germs that cause infections, such as gastrointestinal bug Clostridium difficile.