Scots ambulance staff ‘too busy with call-outs to wash hands’

Paramedics have a target of responding to 75 % of the most serious calls within eight minutes. Picture: John Devlin
Paramedics have a target of responding to 75 % of the most serious calls within eight minutes. Picture: John Devlin
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A growing number of hard-pressed ambulance staff are so busy with call-outs they aren’t washing their hands properly, a new report suggests.

There are now concerns over the potential spread of infection after it emerged that hand hygiene standards among paramedics fell to a 12-month low last December.

Opposition parties are now warning that public confidence could be put at risk unless action is taken to address the issue.

The pressure on the ambulance service was thrown into focus recently when it emerged that response time targets for call-outs to suspected heart attacks had been downgraded until the government intervened to reverse the move. The latest report by the Healthcare Associated Infection Reporting Template shows that about one in ten (12 per cent) of ambulance staff were not meeting 
hand hygiene compliance standards in December last year.

The West central Division report card was particularly bad where compliance levels of just 86 per cent.

The report states: “The past year’s compliance shown in the report card section indicates that the December compliance is the lowest reported in the past year.”

The overall service result was 91 per cent in November and fell to 88 per cent in December.

It adds: “It is worth noting that the December audits coincided with a period of significantly increased operational demand and related weather conditions.”

Scottish Ambulance Service management proposed that 12 kinds of call-outs would be changed from a “red” to a “yellow” response.

It meant crews would be required to attend within 19 minutes, rather than eight minutes. The Scottish government later announced the proposed changes had been “paused” as Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood had “expressed ­concern”.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “Everyone knows paramedics do a very challenging job under tremendous pressure. But handwashing is critical to reduce the spread of infection, and many recent reports into things like norovirus and C.diff have confirmed this. As a result, ambulance bosses should make absolutely sure staff have enough time and opportunity to comply with these handwashing guidelines.

“If these results are repeatedly poor, the public will begin to lose confidence in what is an extremely crucial service.”

Current targets are for 75 per cent of the most serious calls to be responded to within eight minutes, but a report last week found that only 66 per cent of calls are seen within that time.