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The importance of good hand hygiene in hospitals

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    Public Health England advise that hand washing is one of the most important ways of controlling the spread of infections. This is heightened in a medical treatment environment where serious injury can be suffered.

    By Richard Coleman

Not washing our hands in our day to day lives substantially increases our risk of passing on bacteria which can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and other debilitating, and sometimes life threatening infections. Hand washing also helps to prevent the spread of viral infections, such as norovirus, rotavirus and influenza.

Apparently we, the British public, aren’t very good at doing it. Research carried out last year by London’s School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and hygiene experts from Queen Mary, University of London, found that faecal bacteria was present on 26% of hands in the UK. A rather unpleasant statistic.

The problems arising from poor (or no) hand washing can be serious enough amongst the public, but what happens if our medical practitioners didn’t always wash their hands? Fortunately, since the “Clean your Hands” campaign was introduced to NHS Hospitals in 2004, hand washing practices in hospitals have improved, however there are still too many reports of poor hand hygiene.  Sometimes, depending on what treatment is being provided, this causes no problems at all, but if for example a sterile or surgical procedure is being carried out, the consequences can be devastating and serious injury can be suffered.

MY EXPERIENCE

I recently successfully settled an amputation claim for a gentleman called John who had to have an above knee amputation due to a severe infection he contracted when his doctor simply didn’t wash his hands before treating him.

John had arthritis in his knee which was causing him pain. He decided to have a steroid injection into his knee to see if his pain would improve. The doctor who was administering the injection had a cold. He didn’t wash his hands before giving the injection and was even wiping his nose with the back of hands and fingers during the procedure. It was admitted that this was negligent medical treatment as it was below an acceptable standard.

Within days of having the steroid injection, John was extremely unwell. He was admitted to hospital and was diagnosed with an infection in his knee which had spread through his body causing sepsis. He was commenced on strong intravenous antibiotics and had to undergo numerous operations in an attempt to washout the severe infection in his knee. Sadly the attempts failed. John’s only option was to have his leg amputated.

Theoretically this case was straightforward; if the doctor had washed his hands John wouldn’t have lost his leg. Instead John is now restricted to mobilising with crutches or a wheelchair. He and his wife have had to move into a bungalow. He cannot run around after his grandchildren, or continue his passion for gardening.

WHAT WE CAN DO?

John’s case is an extreme example of what can result from medical practitioners failing to wash their hands before treating patients, but sadly the consequences he has suffered as a result of the negligence are all too common.  It is vital that all medical practitioners practice good hand hygiene to avoid injuries such as those suffered by John.  This should not be too much to ask, it does not require any particular medical expertise or training and should be simply a matter of course.

The Clinical Negligence Team is very experienced dealing with cases of infections negligently contracted during medical treatment. If you think you might have a claim  for an infection you contracted, or would simply like some medical negligence advice, then please contact the Clinical Negligence Team who would be pleased to advise you on your options.

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