Thursday, July 9, 1998 Published at 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
'Even Diana failed hospital hygiene test'
Hospital hygiene is not up to scratch
Hospitals are putting patients at risk by failing to take sufficient precautions to prevent the spread of infection, doctors have warned.
The laissez-faire attitude was demonstrated when doctors allowed Princess Diana to flout hygiene rules when she attended a heart surgery operation, they said.
The British Medical Association annual conference in Cardiff heard that one in 10 patients leave hospitals with an infection caught on the wards, including drug resistant superbugs like MRSA.
Dr Joe Kearns told the conference that more care is lavished on producing a pork pie than preventing patients from catching hospital infections.
He said lack of infection control in NHS hospitals meant patients' health was being put at risk.
Nurses bring infections into hospitals when they come into work in uniform and theatre staff go into the canteen in their theatre robes because changing facilities are inadequate. This means they take germs back into the operating theatre with them.
Even Diana was to blame
It is estimated that 60,000 people a year pick up a new infection in hospital, according to a report published last year by the Public Health Laboratory Service.
The problem is that there is no enforceable code of practice for health and safety in the NHS, like there is in the food industry, claimed Dr Kearns, a member of the BMA's occupational health committee.
He called for the chief executive of the NHS to take responsibility for patient safety, rather than leaving it up to individual trusts.
No chain of command
Dr Kearns, who used to work in the food industry, said: "There is no identifiable chain of command imposing a solid infection control discipline that would accord to patients the care lavished on a pork pie.
"One in 10 patients emerge from hospital with an infection not present on admission, yet nurses carry contagion into the hospital when they come to work in uniform.
"It is my experience that nurses who have asked doctors of any grade to wash their hands are steamrolled on the basis of seniority of the doctor and are not allowed to intervene.
"For want of adequate changing facilities, theatre staff go to the canteen in theatre clothing.
"Even in the theatre, open nostrils above masks spray infection into the wound."
Bicycle taken through ward
He added that he had seen a nurse wheel a bicycle with wet wheels through the recovery room of a cardiac ward because there was nowhere safe for her to leave it outside.
He said: "That is a very eloquent statement about the need for additional expenditure. People are trying to do their best in impossible circumstances."
However, he said that there was good practice in some hospitals, especially modern hospitals.
A random survey of 30 hospitals by the National Audit Office found that not one had a health and safety plan.
Health workers charter
On Thursday, the BMA, which wants an occupational health service for health workers, outlined a 10-point charter for good standards of health and safety in the NHS.
The NHS was exempt from health and safety prosecution until eight years ago and since then the number of prosecutions has been increasing.
On Thursday, the BMA conference voted in favour of an occupational health service for all GPs and their staff, funded centrally.