Crackdown on hospital hygiene urged
Hospitals chiefs across the country have been ordered to crack down on sloppy hygiene among medics which is putting tens of thousands of patients at risk of infection.
In the latest wave of surprise inspections, the State's health watchdog has named and shamed several major hospitals for lax and sometimes dangerous standards of cleanliness.
St James' Hospital in Dublin - one of Ireland's busiest hospitals - was criticised for putting sick people at further risk of infection because of a poor hand-washing regime among staff.
The findings have provoked Health Minister James Reilly - himself a doctor - to attacked medical staff for threatening the health of patients.
"I have no doubt that the relevant regulatory bodies will deal appropriately with medical professionals who persist in endangering patients through a lack of hand hygiene," he said.
Bosses at St James' Hospital were also rapped for lax security at rooms holding hazardous materials, inappropriate storage facilities and for failing to meet waste management guidelines.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) carried out an unannounced inspection of the hospital, and three others, during last month.
The watchdog warned that hand hygiene is recognised internationally as the single most important measure in preventing common infections in hospitals.
"The degree of non-compliance with hand hygiene best practices observed by the Authority poses a serious risk to patients in St James' Hospital," inspectors said.
The Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin was branded "generally unclean" with some exceptions.
Cleaning at the hospital was not good enough to reduce the spread of infections, an inspection at the Adelaide Road facility found.
In around two thirds of cases observed, staff did not clean their hands to standards expected. The below-par standards put patients at risk of contracting infections, it was cautioned.
Also under the spotlight, St Columcille's Hospital in Loughlinstown, south Dublin, was found to be generally clean but there were problems with dust and grit in some places.
The hospital's hand hygiene also fell short of national standards.
Inspectors also criticised bosses at Kerry General Hospital, where it found patients threatened with infection because staff were not cleaning their hands as expected.
Patients may be at "serious risk" because of the standards, Hiqa said.
While the hospital itself was generally clean, there were concerns flagged about dust, clutter, unsecured chemical storage, clinical waste and medications not securely stored.
Hiqa also carried out a follow-up visit to Letterkenny General Hospital, which was exposed earlier this year for having dirty baby baths, rusty baby weighing scales and fire hazards.
After a pre-arranged visit in June, inspectors said there was still room for improvement in the Donegal hospital.
Attendance at hand hygiene training among hospital staff has been "problematic" because of a "low uptake", it was warned.
In a statement, the Department of Health admitted infections were a major cause of harm to patient which could be prevented as well as increased healthcare costs.
Tony O'Brien, director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE), has ordered hospitals to "strengthen" hygiene standards on the back of the latest embarrassing inspections findings.
Hospitals have also been told to make sure their entire workforce is educated and trained in hand hygiene by June next year while monthly reports are to be sent to the HSE.
"The HSE is also working with the main medical professional bodies to address the issue of doctor attitudes and behaviour around hand hygiene," the statement said.