Thursday 5th January 2017
Andrea Jenkyns, a member of the Health Select Committee and Conservative MP for Morley and Outwood
Poor hand hygiene kills. Each year, 300,000 patients are affected by a healthcare-associated infection as a result of poor care within the NHS. And in 2007, MRSA and C. diff were recorded as the underlying cause of, or a contributory factor in, approximately 9,000 deaths.
Hospital infections cost the NHS £1billion a year and place a considerable strain on healthcare services. Shockingly, up to 40 per cent of those infections are preventable.
Superbug infections are more common in the old, sick and weaker patients. The bacteria usually gets into their body through an entry point, such as a surgical wound or a catheter. I have seen this first hand, having tragically lost my Dad to a hospital infection in 2011. During what was meant to be a routine operation, which ended up lasting hours longer than was expected, my dad caught MRSA. A trainee doctor practiced on him for two and a half hours, he was operated on in a room with an open mop bucket and other infected patients were housed close by. He subsequently died. It was later concluded that poor hygiene was probably a contributing factor to my father’s death.
Good hand hygiene is the cheapest and most efficient method of preventing deaths and is essential to infection control. Technology can now assist with that most basic of hygiene practices.
Following my election as an MP in 2015, I became a member of the Health Select Committee and Chair of the APPG for Patient Safety. Those groups have allowed me to explore issues that affect patients nationwide, and campaign for more accountability within the health service so that no patient has to suffer as my father did.
Starting at the most basic level, it is crucial that hospital staff comply with hand hygiene standards. Electronic monitoring is a viable solution to ensure higher levels of compliance.
The current monitoring approach, called “direct observation”, whereby an individual monitors behaviour and records actions using a checklist and pen, is not fit for purpose and inflates compliance standards.
Electronic monitoring is an innovation that will allow the accurate collection of data to ensure people comply with hygiene standards in a truthful and truly representative way. The electronic monitoring system records whether a member of staff draws from a hand-rub dispenser when they enter and exit a hospital room. I welcome the fact that Burton and Luton Hospital Trusts are piloting the use of electronic monitoring systems, and I look forward to seeing this technology installed more widely.
While we can do a lot more to prevent infections by washing our hands, it is also vital we continue to innovate in the treatment field, to ensure that when an infection is caught, it can be treated quickly and effectively.
Refreshingly, we are now beginning to see potential breakthrough treatments. One treatment is Reactive Oxygen. To date, no gram-negative, gram-positive or multi-resistant bacteria has survived that treatment. Considering that no new species of anti-biotics have been created for decades, this new technology could represent a revolutionary step forward to attempt to solve the growing threat of superbugs.
While we await the exciting new developments of electronic monitoring, Reactive Oxygen and others, which will hopefully be implemented in the future, I feel it is necessary to conclude with more immediate solutions to infection prevention.
I have always said that education is crucial. The Department of Health has already begun implementing a coordinated campaign to raise awareness about the growing threat of Sepsis and E. Coli. A coordinated approach will be essential in preventing the million deaths that are predicted as a result of anti-biotic resistant infections in 2050.
The “Design a dispenser” competition, which I am going to be running through my Handz campaign, was established with the aim of educating school children about the necessity of good hand hygiene. They would design their own hand rub dispensers which would then be put up in their schools. The competition would also include a tutorial on healthy hand washing habits and, hopefully, these will last them a life time. Initiatives such as those do not require revolutionary new technologies; however, they will go a long way in teaching children to wash their hands, in turn, preventing the transmission of bacteria.