It seems incredible that hospitals in Northern Ireland are still ignoring the most basic rules of hygiene in spite of all the publicity given to the spread of potentially killer infections such as C Difficile and MRSA.
Incidences of both have fallen significantly in the past four years, but inspections by the health and social care regulator has found worrying lapses in cleanliness in a number of hospitals.
The most startling lapse discovered during the inspections was the failure of staff to wash their hands or wear protective equipment such as gloves and aprons when working with patients. Infection control does not get more basic than this and for staff to ignore the cardinal rules of hygiene is worrying. All other attempts to keep infection at bay are undermined by this behaviour.
Other lapses were also discovered such as equipment splattered with blood, dirty floors, and, even, faeces found on the wall of a toilet in one hospital. Another simple failing was the use of the wrong disinfectant by cleaning staff at some facilities. This is an example of a basic error which should not occur.
In most cases greater education on infection control and more rigorous implementation and inspection of cleaning regimes would be sufficient to ensure that hygiene standards are improved further. It would be churlish not to acknowledge the strides that have already been made, but more can, and should, be achieved and that is a message which Health Minister Michael McGimpsey must drive home to trust managements.
Ultimately it is patients' lives which are at risk. People in hospital are generally at a low ebb and are prone to infection. It is therefore imperative that the environment within hospitals is kept as sterile as possible. As can be seen from the regulator's report, it is a change of attitude as much as regime which is required. For hospitals to clean up their act will not cost much but it will save lives.