Dirty baby baths threatening the health of newborns were among a catalogue of neglect posing a significant risk to patients at a major hospital, a damning report has revealed.
Health watchdogs have attacked lax management at Letterkenny General Hospital for allowing unlocked rooms where chemicals, painkillers and other strong medications and syringes were stored.
Inspectors also found fire hazards, rusty baby weighing scales, mould, dust and debris during an unannounced visit to the surgical, medical and maternity wards of the 318-bed hospital in Donegal.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said while there was some evidence of good practice on the wards, overall they were "unclean". It said: "This would suggest that the physical environment was not effectively managed and maintained to protect patients and reduce the spread of healthcare associated infections. This poses a significant risk to patients."
Health concerns have also been raised about hygiene in three other hospitals in Sligo, Cork and Waterford, Hiqa said. The Health Service Executive (HSE) said the reports show some improvements in hand hygiene rates but admitted further improvement is needed in some hospitals.
In Letterkenny General Hospital, inspectors found dusty baby baths were stored along a corridor of the maternity ward. As there was no system in place for cleaning the baby baths there was no way of knowing whether or not they had been washed or were awaiting being washed, the report found.
Hiqa said as mothers took baby baths from the corridor as they needed them, there was a risk of their newborns contracting an infection from them. Inspectors warned the clinical nurse manager about the threat.
Hiqa inspectors made the surprise check on the Letterkenny hospital on February 27 this year. The following day another unannounced inspection took place in Sligo Hospital, where one of the worst incidents was in a treatment room of the medical ward south. Used IV equipment, including unsterile surgical tubes known as cannulae, were found sitting on a worktop while a hazardous sharps bin was overflowing.
Two separate Hiqa reports raised concerns about hand hygiene at Wexford General Hospital and Cork University Hospital.
A HSE spokesman said it will be mandatory from July for all staff to receive hand hygiene training as part of staff induction. "Staff will also be required to complete a hand hygiene education programme every two years as part of continuous training," he added.