Hand washing horrors – we need to do better

Not many nurses would have been surprised to read the findings of this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. Many of us have spent our careers reminding our medical colleagues to perform hand hygiene and usually copping flack for our trouble! I cringe when I reflect on my early training days (over 40 years ago) when the consultant surgeon would do his post op rounds, taking down dressings without a thought to hand hygiene being performed in between patients. Neither myself, as a lowly student, nor my more senior colleagues would consider reminding ‘Sir’ of this oversight! None of us had the courage to speak up for our patients, such was the culture and hierarchical structures of the time.  We are perhaps seeing the consequences of this culture, poor practices and lack of courage to advocate for our patients all these years later with the rise of the ‘super bugs’ and resultant mortality and morbidity. Reading the article, it was encouraging to see that hand hygiene rates are improving, but still a long way to go. All health professionals must take responsibility not only for their own hand hygiene, but in monitoring and encouraging good hand hygiene practices of others. It takes courage to speak up and remind others of correct procedures, but it can be done in a way that is respectful and should not be taken personally. I feel sure if it was a loved one suffering from an infection, we would be quick to act.


It is not only in hospitals that poor hand hygiene practices could be improved. I have on several occasions questioned food handlers in delis and fast food outlets who take my money with the same gloved hand they have just used to handle my food order. Last year I  reported a local café to the council for consistently not providing hand towels in the toilets used, not only by customers, but by the café staff! I gave the manager fair warning that I would be reporting him, but to no avail. Needless to say I go elsewhere for my coffee now!


On a lighter note, I am both heartened and amused when I see people take out small bottles of alcohol rub and perform hand hygiene in cafes and restaurants – they must be nurses I say to myself! But maybe not, I am hoping the hand hygiene message is getting through to a wider audience.