Hospital hygiene disappointing - health watchdog

The HEI has hit out at staffs lack of hand cleanliness. Picture: Jayne WrightThe HEI has hit out at staffs lack of hand cleanliness. Picture: Jayne Wright
The HEI has hit out at staffs lack of hand cleanliness. Picture: Jayne Wright
HAND hygiene among NHS staff, cleaning of patient equipment and handling of needles are key areas needing improvement in Scotland’s hospitals, a healthcare inspectorate report released today reveals.

The Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI), part of Healthcare Improvement Scotland, praised NHS Scotland for improving cleanliness in hospitals, yet warned there must be no complacency if standards are to continue to improve.

But HEI chief inspector Susan Brimelow said it was “particularly disappointing” that the same problems continued to be seen.

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And Unison Scottish organiser Dave Watson said recent Scottish Government cuts to hospital budgets such as initiatives aimed at improving cleanliness had to be taken into account.

Last September the Scottish Government slashed funding for MRSA screening and initiatives, including paying for extra staff, from £28.4 million to £18.5m in 2014-2015.

In its fourth annual report, HEI sets out what it found during 35 inspections to 32 acute hospitals and services in 13 NHS boards and special health boards across Scotland, from 1 October 2012 to 30 September 2013 – 32 of these were unannounced.

Among hospitals receiving unannounced visits were the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, also in Edinburgh, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, the State Hospital, Carstairs and the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway.

The report highlights a number of positive findings including that those hospitals inspected were generally clean and well maintained; NHS staff were clear on their roles and responsibilities in relation to infection prevention and control; and there was good compliance in prescribing antibiotics – which can play an important part in preventing and controlling infection.

But it also identified a number of key areas for improvement for NHS boards, including a need to address recurring problems that continue to be highlighted in inspections. In particular, these relate to the cleaning of patient equipment (eg bed frames, mattresses and commodes); hand hygiene among NHS staff; and management of needles, waste and linen.

Ms Brimelow said: “Overall, the public should be assured by our findings, which show that NHS Scotland continues to make good progress in raising standards of hospital cleanliness, hygiene and infection control.

“However, it’s vital that improvements are not just made as a short-term action following our inspections – they need to be sustained over time. It is particularly disappointing, therefore, that we still find recurring areas for improvement.”

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She added: “We will continue to be tough when we see poor standards, as patients rightly demand.”

Mr Watson said: “NHS staff are under constant pressure. The Scottish Government has reduced the cleaning budget overall. They can say that it is up to individual health boards to prioritise how they spend their money but this inevitably means savings on areas like cleaning.”

Scottish Labour health spokesman Neil Findlay MSP said: “These results reflect the sustained pressure hospital staff are under and the difficulties they have in completing all tasks. With the SNP announcing cuts to the hand hygiene budget it is worrying as to how hospitals are expected to improve levels with even less resources.”

Health Secretary Alex Neil MSP said: “Scotland has a robust scrutiny regime across NHS Scotland. I have confidence that this system is continuing to drive improvement. However, I share the Inspectorate’s disappointment that there are areas where improvement is still required.

“I expect health boards to give the highest priority to ensuring that all of the requirements identified during the inspection process are put in place.”