Sunday 24 September 2017

Martin Cormican: Too many healthcare staff are washing their hands of hygiene rules

Many doctors undervalue mundane repetitive tasks that do not pose a technical challenge
Many doctors undervalue mundane repetitive tasks that do not pose a technical challenge
Professor Martin Cormican

In the mid-1840s, Dr Ignaz Semmelweiss produced good evidence of the value of hand hygiene, but some years later Dr Charles Meigs dismissed hand hygiene, observing that "doctors are gentlemen and a gentleman's hands are clean". So from the outset, some doctors have championed hand hygiene while others seemed not to get it.

To be fair, at that time "the germ theory" of infection caused by microscopic bacteria and viruses was not well-established. We now know that hands that look perfectly clean can carry germs, yet it seems that getting healthcare workers, and especially doctors, to clean their hands as often as they should is difficult.

The clinical hand-hygiene drill is a series of movements using soap and water or an alcohol gel. You have to be trained how to do it. Frequent retraining is needed. The drill removes or kills bacteria that have stuck to hands. Alcohol gel is faster because you don't need to find the sink and the gel dries on the hands as you walk and talk. It takes about 30 seconds to use the gel or a minute with soap and water.

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