INDEPENDENT hospital hygiene inspections which were stalled for over three years because of a lack of resources have begun again.
The last national hygiene audits carried out on Irish hospitals was in 2009.
Now, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), the organisation tasked with carrying out the checks, has confirmed that new audits on acute hospitals are to be published within weeks.
The group is also hoping to extend the audits to all healthcare providers in the State.
Audits on more than six hospitals were carried out in the final quarter of last year and the results are to be published "imminently", according to HIQA.
"National hygiene audits were carried out in 2009 and a number of separate hygiene audits were carried out in 2010. We had intended to carry out further audits in 2012 but we faced a resource challenge," a spokesperson for HIQA said.
HIQA insists it now has adequate manpower to carry out full audits for 2013.
"The team had been involved in developing standards and were involved in a number of investigations. An appropriate number of people are now free to carry out such assessments," the spokesperson added.
The move to reinstate the audits has been welcomed by patient groups. Tony Kavanagh of MRSA and Families said they were relieved to hear the inspections were returning.
"They claimed the reason for stopping the inspections was a lack of resources, but surely, given the levels of hospital acquired infections in the country, we should make such inspections a priority," he said.
Mr Kavanagh added that the lack of hygiene audits had been putting patients at greater risk of serious infections. He pointed to cases including the outbreak of MRSA colonisation among newborns at Mayo General Hospital last year.
In October the Irish Independent revealed how 23 newborn babies had been hit by MRSA contamination in the hospital over a seven month period.
A spokesperson for the HSE confirmed that there had been no positive colonisation among newborns since October of last year but the outbreak had led to an upgrade of cleaning standards at the hospital.
Mr Kavanagh said that while it was a positive step that the outbreak had been brought under control he feared that, without constant audits, standards would slip in the future.