The latest in a series of Health Information Quality Authority (Hiqa) reports found that, despite repeated warnings over the dangers of patient infections, medical staff are still failing to wash their hands.
The reports — on St James’s, St Columcille’s, Kerry General, the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, and Letterkenny General — uncovered numerous other hygiene problems.
An Oireachtas health committee meeting last week hit out at inadequate responses to the situation, such as teaching people how to clean their hands and creating “hygiene champions”.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Department of Health said HSE director general Tony O’Brien is set to implement a series of hygiene initiatives.
* Each hospital must ensure a member of the senior management team is responsible for hygiene;
* Every hospital must introduce a hygiene programme, based on the World Health Organisation framework, by the end of the year;
* Every hospital must “have their entire workforce educated and trained in hand hygiene by Jun 2014”.
Independent senator Jillian van Turnhout last week said such ways to solve the problem would be inadequate.
“The latest response from one hospital last week was to say they want to appoint hand hygiene champions. I was flabbergasted by that,” she said.
“These are potentially fatal consequences. And that [hand hygiene champions] is the answer? Really? I want to know who is accountable because as far as I can see no one is accountable.”
The apparent health service management solution to the problem came after the latest Hiqa inspection reports found the facilities are potentially posing a risk to patients.
At St James’s, the independent watchdog teams found blood-stained cotton wool, dirty needles that were not properly stored, a handwash basin in a treatment room being blocked by a waste bin, and a number of opportunities for staff to wash their hands failing to be taken.
Heavy layers of dust were found in treatment rooms at Kerry General, two-thirds of hand-washing opportunities failed to be met at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, and bins were “filled to the brim” at St Columcille’s in Dublin.
At Letterkenny General, the only facility told in advance of the inspection, mould was found in bathrooms.
“This is unacceptable, we need to change the culture,” said Irish Patients Association chairman Stephen McMahon.
“This [hygiene] is a simple process. If this was a football club, supporters would start looking at management after this performance.”