Hand hygiene plays vital role in public health

Two recent news articles about poor hand hygiene posted on SMH.com.au are testimony to the ever-increasing awareness and vital role of the cleaning and hygiene industry in public health and the importance of enforcing a national benchmark for hand hygiene standards.
This is a major concern for the British Olympic team that has been ‘advised by its top doctor to avoid shaking hands with rivals and visiting dignitaries at the London Games this summer’ with the reason being that ‘Olympic germs could cost Olympic gold’.
While this etiquette could be looked upon as rude, it seems the ‘British Olympic Association (BOA) is far more concerned with illness spreading through the camp and thwarting the country’s bid for glory’.
BOA chief medical officer Dr Ian McCurdie is said to believe strong personal hygiene could prove to be the difference between success and failure for the country’s aim to match its fourth-place finish at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. When asked if the traditional handshake greeting should be retracted, he said, “I think, within reason, yes.”
“I think that is not such a bad thing to advise,” McCurdie added. “The difficulty is when you have got some reception and you have got a line of about 20 people you have never met before who you have got to shake hands with.
“Almost certainly, I believe, the greatest threat to performance is illness and possibly injury,” he said. “At an Olympic Games or any major event the performance impact of becoming ill or even feeling a little bit ill can be significant.
“Essentially we are talking about minimising risk of illness and optimising resistance. Minimising exposure and getting bugs into the system and being more robust to manage those should that happen. Hand hygiene is it. It is all about hand hygiene.”
It’s no wonder such extreme precautions are being considered with the statistics revealed in a second article by Melissa Davey that states ‘nearly 20 percent of public hospitals have failed to meet the national benchmark for hand hygiene standards according to data released for the first time yesterday, sparking a call for hospital managers to improve their hygiene policies’.
‘The federal government MyHospitals website has ranked Gosford hospital as having the worst hand hygiene rate in NSW, excluding specialised and small hospitals. Its result of 58.3 percent compliance with accepted hand hygiene procedure was significantly lower than the national standard of 70 percent. It was followed by Royal North Shore hospital (61.7 percent), Lismore hospital (63.1 percent) and Ryde hospital (64.5 percent).’
However the general manager of North Shore Ryde Health Service, Sue Shilbury, said low infection rates at Ryde and Royal North Shore hospitals indicated that, albeit statistics, staff did have good hygiene. ”As a tertiary referral hospital,Royal North Shore cares for many seriously ill patients who present with trauma, burns and immune-suppressed conditions,” said Shilbury. “In order to protect these patients it is vital that all staff, patients and visitors maintain a high level of hand hygiene.”
Meanwhile Matt Hanrahan, the chief executive of the Central Coast Local Health District, which includes Gosford hospital, said he expected staff to adhere to higher hygiene standards. ”During the last four audits in our hospitals, we have made significant improvement in hand hygiene but we need to do more.”
‘To calculate a hospital’s rank, the number of times correct hand hygiene procedure was observed by auditors was divided by the total number of hand hygiene ‘moments’, then multiplied by 100. A ‘moment’ was defined as any time there was a perceived or actual risk of pathogen transmission via a person’s hands. Fairfield and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead were ranked equal highest in the state at 89 percent compliance.’
The hand hygiene data is said to be compiled three times a year, however, the ranking of private hospitals was not included because their participation to the MyHospitals website was voluntary.
The federal health minister Tanya Plibersek said managers at hospitals with a rate lower than the national benchmark should focus on improving. ”We know the simple act of washing our hands is the single most effective way of reducing the spread of infectious diseases in our hospitals,” she said.
“The release of this data will give doctors and nurses the information they need to continue driving down infection rates.”