Winnipeg hospital staff not washing their hands enough

Health-care professionals in Winnipeg's hospitals are washing their hands half as often as they should be, says the city's health authority.
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority audit finds that health-care staff at the city's hospitals are washing their hands half as much as they should be. 1:44

Health-care professionals in Winnipeg's hospitals are washing their hands half as often as they should be, says the city's health authority.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) says 58 per cent of overall workers at St. Boniface General Hospital clean their hands on the job — that's the highest hand-washing compliance rate among the city's six hospitals.

The lowest compliance rate is at Victoria General Hospital, where 42 per cent of health-care staff are washing their hands, according to audit numbers released by the WRHA on Tuesday.

Nurses are most compliant with hand-washing rules among Winnipeg hospital staff, with an average rate of 55 per cent. (CBC)

The city's largest hospital, the Health Sciences Centre, is in the middle of the pack with a hand-washing rate of 48 per cent.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald said health-care staff need to change their habits, perhaps by taking some cues from children.

"You know who's really good at hand-washing? The kids at daycare," Oswald said.

"They have a regime, they can go forward on hand-washing, and they have so much to teach us as adults about how to appropriately take care of ourselves in terms of infection control."

The WRHA's audit found that hospital nurses are the best at hand-washing, with an average compliance rate of 55 per cent.

Doctors, on the other hand, were observed washing their hands an average of 28 per cent of the time.

St. Boniface doctors in particular were the worst offenders, with a compliance rate of just 17 per cent, the audit found.

"I don't think throwing doctors in jail for this is the answer, but I do think gentle pressure applied relentlessly concerning hand hygiene is the way to go," Oswald said.

Such a strategy has helped hand-washing rates increase elsewhere, the minister said, adding that the WRHA is taking an aggressive approach to encourage staff to clean their hands.

Hand-washing audit

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) says staff hand-washing audits are a required operational practice for its hospitals.

The numbers were compiled over a three-month period earlier this year, with an auditor visiting each hospital and observing staff.

The auditor counts the number of incidents in which a staff member should have washed his/her hands, and counts the number of times hand-washing did not occur.

The following graphs, provided by the WRHA, show:

  1. The overall hand-washing compliance rates at Winnipeg hospitals.
  2. Compliance rates broken down by profession — nurses, health-care aides and doctors — at each hospital.
  3. Compliance before and after a health-care worker comes into physical contact with a patient.

Officials say washing hands before coming into contact with a patient is meant to protect the patient, while washing hands afterwards is aimed at protecting staff.