HOSPITAL doctors who are accused of putting lives at risk by not washing their hands will not be sanctioned, HSE chief Tony O'Brien has confirmed.
He was speaking after damning inspection reports found senior doctors in several hospitals are in danger of passing on potentially fatal infections to patients by refusing to wash their hands.
However, Mr O' Brien rejected calls for sanctions from patient groups and said he would first try to find out what are the barriers to doctors following the patient safety rule and then attempt to remove them.
The reports found a high number of doctors in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin were not washing between patients and it was also an issue in Tullamore Hospital, Merlin Park Hospital, Galway, Limerick Regional Maternity Hospital and Lourdes Orthopaedic Hospital, Kilkenny.
"I was concerned by the reports," he told the Irish Independent.
"We will be considering them carefully and engaging with hospital management to ensure they have a robust plan in place.
"The critical issue coming out of the reports is the day is hand hygiene. We will be engaging with them to help them achieve compliance.
"The first step is to see what barriers there are to compliance. Work has already been done on this in the area of nursing and we need to do (this) with doctors.
"It is a cultural issue, clearly. If a doctor sees 35 patients, that should mean 35 hand-washings.
"The evidence around healthcare quality improvement involves identifying barriers and removing them. Only when you have done everything you can, should you be thinking of sanctions."
Earlier, Beaumont Hospital transplant surgeon David Hickey described the idea of sanctions as "stupid" but he agreed that failure to wash hands was unacceptable and put patients at risk.
Inspectors found doctors in his unit were washing their hands but they were critical of other hygiene standards in the physical environment of the unit – problems which he blamed on the fact it was housed in a portacabin-style building.
"I am addressing it (hand washing) in my area and that is all that I can do," he said.
It needs to be addressed but it was necessary to make it easier by having more wash basins that are easily accessible.
"I think the focus is being shifted away from those whose responsibility it is to provide these facilities for their patients," he insisted.
He said his transplant unit was "not built for purpose".
"It's crowded. It's dark. There's no air conditioning. It's a stressful place to work." A bed should be vacant for at least 12 hours to allow for full cleaning.
"When you're running at 110pc occupancy, as we are in our hospital, it's impossible for management to get the place empty for a sufficient amount of time to do the job properly.
"Every room after a patient is churned should be fogged with peroxide to make sure it's absolutely sterile," he added.
By Eilish O'Regan