The rate at which patients are infected with the two most feared hospital superbugs -MRSA and C Difficile - has fallen, but it still ranks among the highest in Europe.
Although cases of hospital infections, some of them potential killers, are due to various reasons, including antibiotic resistance and general lapses in infection control, lack of handwashing is a major contributory factor to their spread.
Last year, there were 222 reports of potentially lethal MRSA bloodstream infection, down from 242 the previous year.
There were 1,732 cases of C Difficile last year and 31 of these patients ended up in intensive care as a result or having surgery.
A range of other illnesses can also be spread by contaminated hands, including pneumonia-related infections, urinary tract infections and the winter vomiting bug.
Prof Robert Cunney, of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "For health professionals in hospital or community, the single most important thing they can do in terms of spreading infection is decontaminate their hands. It is much higher in Ireland than in other countries."
Asked why so many staff fail to do so, he said: "There is a lot of psychology involved. People are in an uncontrolled environment where there are emergencies happening all the time and it is overcrowded. In the past, access to facilities was poor but that is changing with alcohol hand gel."
Dr James Gray, emergency consultant at Tallaght Hospital, said: "Hospital hand hygiene is vital in infection control but it is also affected by hospital overcrowding, lack of isolation facilities, regulations on hospital attire, use of neck ties, stethoscope hygiene, blood pressure cuff hygiene and other equipment hygiene after each patient use.
"Staffing shortages and overworked, fatigued staff also play a role."