Patients' lives put at risk by their doctors
Damning report reveals litany of hygiene failures
CARELESS doctors who are responsible for some of the sickest patients in a major hospital are putting lives at risk by not washing their hands.
A litany of poor hygiene standards, which put staff as well as patients at risk, has been uncovered by inspectors at hospitals around the country.
At one hospital, inspectors reported that patients with communicable infections were using communal bathrooms.
Staff in a Co Kilkenny hospital were at risk of needlestick injuries because a bin for discarded needles was inadequately covered.
The inspectors found that in Tullamore Hospital a patient with suspected transmissible infection was being cared for in a room without handwashing facilities and the door to the room was open.
One of the most alarming reports arose from an inspection at Dublin's Beaumont Hospital, which revealed that most doctors were breaching hygiene rules aimed at reducing the spread of infections such as MRSA.
The report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) warned patient welfare was being put "at serious risk".
Dr Paul Brennan, the hospital's clinical director, admitted that an infection transmitted to patients could be potentially fatal.
Beaumont hospital, which up to now had been giving verbal warnings, is considering "withdrawing privileges" from doctors if they fail to wash their hands.
In Merlin Park Hospital in Galway patients who were isolated due to infection were using a communal bathroom, and in Limerick Regional Maternity Hospital the inspectors uncovered dusty and sticky residue.
Dublin's Beaumont Hospital is now to appoint "hand hygiene champions" among ward staff to urge colleagues to wash their hands.
"The standards are not acceptable and the hospital is committed to improving its compliance," Dr Brennan said.
HIQA also found breaches of the basic patient-safety rule in hospitals in Tullamore, Limerick, Kilkenny and Galway.
The country's disease watchdog has also warned that one in 20 patients admitted to hospital is picking up and infection.
In a blunt message, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre said that staff who were not washing hands were putting patients in danger of potentially lethal infections.
The unannounced inspection in Beaumont took place on July 23 – just days after it emerged that up to 20 people who underwent surgery at the hospital could have been exposed to potential risk of the brain disease CJD from contaminated instruments.
Staff were observed on 60 occasions when they should have washed their hands, but only complied 28 times – and some were not doing it properly.
The doctors were doing ward rounds in the intensive care unit for patients who had undergone brain surgery, and in the emergency unit.
The inspectors also found doctors who were giving patient anaesthetics and X-rays wore the same apron throughout entire shifts.
Margaret Dawson, of the MRSA and Families Network, said any "hygiene champions" would be ineffective unless some form of sanction was taken against staff who flagrantly put patients in danger.
"I began a campaign of MRSA awareness in 2005 but I fear we have gone backwards," she said.
The inspectors also found a catalogue of other hazards for patients because the hospital was not being cleaned properly.
* In the intensive care unit for patients who had brain surgery, ventilator wires were not properly immersed in decontamination solution. Sterilised patient wash bowls were put in a dirty area.
* In the ward for transplant patients, sticky residue was found on headboards. A portable monitor was stained with a blood-like substance.
* A bin was uncovered in a dirty utility room where sterile equipment and hand towels were stored.
* Bins were found to be overflowing with soiled and contaminated linen.
* Needles, syringes and intravenous fluids were stored in an unlocked utility room, along with a drugs fridge that was left open allowing unauthorised access.
* Bags of clinical waste were left unsecured in the entrance of the unit. Soiled and infected linen was stored in a waste bin in a utility room.
* Dust and sticky residues were found on bed frames, rails and wheels in St Teresa's Ward, the transplant unit.
* Containers storing glucometers were stained with a "blood-like substance", while rust was detected around the wheels of some dressing trolleys.
* Trolleys and shelving with equipment were found to be dusty, while a bin in a men's toilet was "encrusted with dust and grime".
* Bins were overfilled, causing risk of needle-stick injuries, the report said.