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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 11:23 GMT
Doctors 'cut corners' over hygiene
Hand washing
Hospital staff are up against the clock
A prominent member of the British Medical Association has admitted that hospital staff are cutting corners on hygiene because of the daily working pressures being placed on them.

Dr Charles Saunders acknowledged that some doctors and nurses were not being as thorough as they should be in washing their hands between patients.

Dr Saunders, chairman of the BMA's public health committee in Scotland, said this was because staff were having to treat more patients than they should.

His comments came after two unrelated incidents at the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow.

The problem is the number of infection control doctors and patient control nurses are far too few and they are trying to cover far too many hospital beds

Dr Charles Saunders
A salmonella outbreak claimed three lives at the hospital, and was followed by a "winter vomiting" bug which affected 218 staff and patients.

The latter virus has led to the cancellation of operations and forced the closure of the hospital to new admissions.

Dr Saunders said: "There is such immense pressure on doctors, nurses and other hospital staff that sadly it seems they have to cut corners to treat the patients that they have to deal with.

"Given the layout of many older hospital wards and the immense pressure the hospital staff are under - trying to treat more patients than is probably safe - it is not always possible for them to be as effective and thorough as they should be in washing their hands between patients."

Staff 'stretched'

Dr Saunders said more investment was needed in infection control teams that would reinforce the training which staff had received.

He said: "Most hospitals, in fact all hospitals in the NHS, will have infection control teams.

"The problem is the number of infection control doctors and patient control nurses are far too few and they are trying to cover far too many hospital beds."

Hospital laboratory
Hospitals face new hygiene inspections
He said that time spent on training gave them less time to check on safety in the wards.

"It's sad that the Scottish Executive doesn't seem to give the same amount of priority to infection control in hospitals as it does to waiting times and waiting lists," he added.

Earlier, Professor Hugh Pennington, of the bacteriology department at Aberdeen University, told BBC Scotland that not enough was being done to tackle the problem.

Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm promised over the weekend that there would be national action to ensure hospitals tackle hygiene issues.

Salmonella concern

He said a hygiene inspection would take place at every Scottish hospital in the coming weeks.

Professor Pennington said it was likely to be "just bad luck" that the second infection had struck at the Victoria Infirmary.

However, he said he was more concerned with outbreaks such as salmonella which were passed on through individual contact.

Hugh Pennington
Prof. Pennington: "Not rocket science"
Estimates have suggested that up to 500 patients across the country die each year from infections which are acquired in the hospital system.

"There is a substantial amount of infection in hospitals which is preventable and we are not doing enough about it," he said.

"The key measure - and it is not rocket science - is hand washing.

"It is known from surveys that people like doctors and nurses don't wash their hands when they know they ought to."

Professor Pennington said he was more critical of doctors because they had gone through a long and expensive training.

"They know what they should be doing, but when it comes down to the day-to-day they cut corners," he said.

"And it is not always down to pressure of work - sometimes it is just sloppy work, basically."

Dr Charles Saunders
"All hospitals in the NHS will have infection control teams"
Professor Hugh Pennington
"If a restaurant is dirty you are not going to go back, and it is the same with a hospital"
See also:

21 Jan 02 | Scotland
Virus-hit hospital remains closed
20 Jan 02 | Scotland
Hospital virus cases rise
18 Jan 02 | Scotland
Action threat over bug death
17 Jan 02 | Scotland
Salmonella kills three in hospital
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