Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Study criticises hospital hygiene

Unannounced visits were made to inspect hospital hygiene standards
Unannounced visits were made to inspect hospital hygiene standards

A damning hygiene report into Northern Ireland's eight acute hospitals has found that considerable improvement is needed in some of them.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) made unannounced visits to the hospitals between May and September 2009.

Problems were identified at the Ulster Hospital and three Belfast hospitals.

The Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said he was "gravely concerned by the poor performance in some trusts".

The RQIA report stated that four areas of the Ulster Hospital had failed to meet required hygiene standards in almost every way.

During the summer the Royal, the Royal Childrens and Musgrave Park were also subjected to inspections.

In each case the watchdog had to notify the trust's chief executive to make sure immediate action would be taken to tackle hygiene and cleanliness problems.


In the Royal things were so bad in ward 4F that it had to be closed for refurbishment shortly afterwards.

Problems in the ward included a filthy toilet with inspectors describing how they found the seat "covered in faeces."

The Ulster Hospital, which is in the South Eastern Trust, faced some of the strongest criticism across all the inspections.

Inspectors saw staff failing to wash their hands before handling food and after contact with patients.

Gloves which should have only been used once were used over again and clutter made proper cleaning difficult.

A dirty and poorly maintained ice-making machine had to be condemned after the inspection as it was identified as an e-coli risk.

In the Medical Assessment Unit, the inspectors found three mattresses which had been condemned almost a year before lying on a floor blocking a domestic supplies stores.

'Positive attitude'

The Northern Trust has made good progress since its C Diff outbreak last year.

Antrim Hospital was praised for high standards of cleanliness, good staff knowledge and a positive attitude to improving practice, with similar comments about Whiteabbey Hospital.

The South Tyrone Hospital and Erne Hospital both received mixed reports with good practice identified in some areas and room for improvement in others.

In its conclusion the RQIA said there must be a greater emphasis on clinical leadership and team working to improve hygiene and infection control practice.

It also said that these improvements could be achieved at little or no additional cost.

Reacting to the report's findings, the health minster promised "tough action" and announced he would set up a new team to improve cleanliness.

It will comprise senior health staff from the Public Health Agency and from the minister's own department.

He said their key role would be "to ensure that there are rigorous monitoring arrangements in place to check that real and rapid improvements are being delivered".

We've taken steps now, a whole series of actions that we needed to take to assure ourselves that what was happening back in May is not happening now
Hugh McCaughey, South Eastern Trust

The team will report to the minister on a monthly basis.


Responding to the report, Dr Tony Stephens, of the Belfast Trust, said: "We are very focused on improvement and have been working very hard since long before this report was published to see real improvement in patient experience.

"But I would also like to draw people's attention when looking at this report to our outcomes.

"We are able to report a significant improvement in hospital associated infections. We've recorded a 30% reduction in c-diff and MRSA bloodstream infections which points to a genuine, real improvement despite what this report says."

Hugh McCaughey, of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, said the situation had improved since May when the report was initiated.

"We've taken steps now, a whole series of actions that we needed to take to assure ourselves that what was happening back in May is not happening now.

"We've implemented about 95% of those actions and we would expect the situation to be very different today," he said.

Maire Bermingham, of the Northern Trust, said: "I think we now have in place a number of best practice cleaning models that have helped us improve things in the Northern Trust and particularly in Antrim and Whiteabbey which were singled out today.

"We have our intensive cleaning programme up and running.

"We also have now in place our 24-hour rapid response cleaning team who are able to respond very, very quickly."

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