Inadequate hospital hand hygiene is spreading MRSA

Unwashed hands in England's hospitals are contributing to the spread of meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and will continue unless healthcare professionals are taught to assess risk, reveals new research.

Evidence to support this claim was found during a research project which Dr Elizabeth Jenner, Principal Lecturer in Infection Control in the University's School of Nursing and Midwifery, conducted into healthcare professionals' hand hygiene practices.

The research which was led by the University of Hertfordshire consisted of Professor Ben Fletcher, Head of the University's School of Psychology, Dr Linda Miller, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Employment Studies (IES), Dr Fiona Jones, University of Leeds and Dr Geoff Scott, University College London Hospitals.

The findings which are published in The Journal of Hospital Infection showed that 38% of the research sample of 71 health professionals failed to wash their hands after contact with MRSA patients, while 25% failed to wash their hands after contact with faeces and 38% failed to wash their hands after contact with blood.

Dr Jenner commented: "Inadequate hand hygiene practice contributes to the 8% prevalence rate of hospital-acquired infection which is currently costing the NHS in England nearly £1 billion per annum.

MRSA is spread predominantly by unwashed hands. This is now endemic in most of our hospitals. In fact, England now has the worst MRSA bacteraemia rate in Europe."

In a programme of eight research studies, undertaken under the University's School of Psychology, the team looked at the implications of inadequate hand hygiene in hospitals, its role in the spread of infection, such as MRSA, and the effectiveness of practical demonstrations and hand hygiene posters in carrying the message.

The research culminated in a study which observed healthcare professionals on hospital wards and compared their hand hygiene behaviour with self-reports of their actions, taking particular note of practice when working with patients infected or colonised with MRSA.

Professor Ben Fletcher, Principal Supervisor of the research programme commented: "What is most worrying here is that healthcare professionals say one thing and they do another. There is no link between what they say and what they do.

"If we adopt a culture where we urge healthcare workers to treat everyone as if they are infected, then they stop risk assessing. They can't wash their hands all the time, so we need to teach them how to risk assess."

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