Research Uncovers Poor Hand Hygiene

Recent meetings in Singapore and Malaysia regarding Purleve hygienic door handles had everyone asking the same question and that is, "lets be honest, do you always wash your hands for 20 seconds as per the recommendations?"

Research recently undertaken in New Zealand uncovered a poor hand-hygiene record by medical practitioners throughout all hospitals in New Zealand.  The research demonstrated that of the 3,416 hand washing opportunities for medical practitioners in hospitals that hand washing only occurred in 1,952 of those opportunities. Therefore in the 1,464 incidents when handwashing did not take place there was a likelihood that infections be transmitted to other patients.

Most disturbing of all was that the research found that doctors, surgeons and hospital chefs are among the worst offenders at not adhering to hand hygiene.

This is further emphasised by figures from New Zealand's latest Health Quality and Safety Commission National Hand Hygiene report. It found that over four months medical practitioners across all hospitals had a poor rate of hand washing with compliance at 57.1 per cent. In New Zealand the national standard is 70 per cent for hand washing. Alarmingly student doctors' compliance with hand hygiene was only 41.7 per cent.

Proving that a greater emphasis on training in hand hygiene is required for hospital domestic staff, including cleaners and those working with food was confirmed with only 35.6 per cent of the domestic staff washing their hands.

The poor adherence to hand hygiene and handwashing is further emphasised in New Zealand after an Environmental Science and Research study found superbug infections in hospitals had risen 10 per cent.  The most well-known hospital superbug is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA and is most commonly spread via dirty hands.

Hand hygiene requirements in hospitals are that medical practitioners should wash their hands at five key moments:

  1. before seeing patients
  2. before a patient procedure
  3. after a patient procedure
  4. after leaving a patient's surroundings
  5. after seeing patients

The research report found the lack of handwashing hygiene adherence for all hospital workers occurred most commonly after leaving patients and before procedures.

Doctors were found to most commonly wash their hands before and after seeing the patient. Many doctors felt that the five moments of hygiene added a level of complexity that many were unaware of.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health has found to increase compliance to over 73% requires a robust audit procedure plus providing the right-hand hygiene equipment and facilities including posting of signs about the possible consequences.

New Zealand's associate health minister Jo Goodhew called for better tracking of how often hospital workers washed their hands. "Clean hands save lives, it's as simple as that," she said.