Patients to ensure healthcare professionals are clean

Patients are to be given alcohol-based handrubs to ensure that healthcare professionals clean their hands prior to treatment, according to a new report from the chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson.

CMO, Sir Liam Donaldson
CMO, Sir Liam Donaldson

In his Annual Report for 2006, On the State of Public Health, published today, Sir Liam calls for action on the unacceptably low levels of hand hygiene in hospitals. Poor hand hygiene is strongly linked to healthcare infection and incidence of superbugs like MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

Despite improvements, such as the more widespread use of alcohol-based handrubs, levels of compliance by healthcare staff with hand cleaning protocols seldom rise above 60 per cent, and are often lower.

Experience in some other countries, notably Switzerland, shows that high standards of hand hygiene cuts infection rates and saves lives. Studies show that patients are reluctant to challenge doctors and nurses even when they know that they have not cleaned their hands.

Sir Liam Donaldson said: 'Good hand hygiene should be a natural reflex for healthcare professionals, yet it no longer has the status it once had.

'I believe that by empowering patients to work with healthcare professionals on this issue we can improve hand cleaning rates amongst healthcare staff and reduce the number of infections.'

Other key issues
The report also calls for revisions to the organ donor system whereby patients 'opt-out' and consent is presumed. It is hoped that this change will combat the current lack of available organs for transplantation.

Sir Donaldson also makes recommendations to prevent harm from radiotherapy, review and avert newborn baby deaths, and introduce flexible working patterns to ensure that women in medicine are not presented with barriers to their career progression.

A copy of the chief medical officer's Annual Report 2006, On the State of Public Health, can be downloaded from the DoH website.

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