Patients at risk as hospital wards fail to meet basic hygiene levels
Some of Northern Ireland’s most vulnerable patients have been treated in hospital wards that are failing to meet basic hygiene standards, it has emerged.
Patients who are terminally ill, have suffered strokes and young men with learning difficulties are some of the people who were being treated on filthy wards.
The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) has released the results of the latest series of unannounced hygiene inspections carried out at hospitals around Northern Ireland.
In some cases, hygiene levels on the wards were so poor the inspectors went back a couple of months later to ensure standards had improved, with return visits to the Royal Victoria, Downe, Longstone and Craigavon Area hospitals.
Jim Wells, deputy chair of the Stormont health committee, said: “These are very basic issues that if they were to occur in someone’s home they would be dealt with immediately so it is completely unacceptable they are being highlighted once again by the RQIA.
“It is clear that some hospitals in Northern Ireland are capable of complying with hygiene standards so it is worrying that others appear to have so much trouble.”
An inspection of Sperrin Ward at Longstone Hospital — which provides inpatient care and treatment to men with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour — in April revealed a string of failures. The RQIA team found no action had been taken to address issues raised during a previous inspection four months earlier.
The report said: “The inspectors have serious concerns regarding the access to hand washing sinks and the availability of soap and hand towels. All sanitary areas were locked, the toilets did not have toilet rolls, soap, or hand towels. Neither shower room had soap or hand towels, although shower room two did have a broken soap dispenser on the wall by the wash hand sink.
“While toilet tissue, soap and hand towels are basic necessities in the performance of hygiene practices, the lack of their availability also raises serious issues around patient dignity and respect.
“These issues had been raised during an inspection of the ward by the Mental Health and Learning Disability team in December 2010 but there did not appear to have been any subsequent action to improve practices. The trust need to review this matter urgently.”
The RQIA team also found bloodstained equipment, dust and cobwebs, grubby flooring, hairs and stains on a toilet seat and no isolation facilities.
When questioned, nursing staff were not able to describe the correct solutions for cleaning and they were also not aware of the need to run the water twice weekly as part of the Legionella prevention policy.
At the Royal Victoria Hospital, concerns were raised over the management of a patient with suspected C Difficile, staff not washing their hands properly and not wearing aprons when cleaning or when they were in contact with blood and body fluids. The RQIA team said the cleaning of patient equipment in all wards inspected was “unsatisfactory”.
At the Downe Hospital, the RQIA team called for the South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust to implement a back-to-basics review to cut levels of MRSA and C Difficile after failing to meet government targets.
RQIA’s infection prevention and hygiene team was established to undertake a rolling programme of unannounced inspections of acute hospitals. The aims of the inspection process are to promote public trust and confidence, contribute to the prevention and control of hospital acquired infections, and contribute to improvement in hygiene, cleanliness and infection prevention. Health trusts receive no advanced notice of the onsite inspection. An email and telephone call is made by the Chief Executive of the RQIA 30 minutes prior to the team arriving on site.