Nova Scotia

Halifax hospital staff improve hygiene practices

Staff at Nova Scotia's largest hospital have improved hand washing practices, but still aren't complying 30 per cent of the time.
A promotional campaign has improved hand-washing practices at the hospital. (CBC)
Staff at Nova Scotia's largest hospital have improved hand washing practices, but still aren't complying 30 per cent of the time.

An audit at Halifax's Capital District Health Authority earlier this year  found the hand washing rate for the entire organization was 44 per cent.

There's been an intensive education campaign since then and the latest audit shows staff are now cleaning their hands 70 per cent of the time.

Tammy MacDonald works on the hand washing campaign.

"Part of people getting that information back was a wake-up call saying well, we're not as good as we thought we would be, but we do want to do better," she said Tuesday.

Tammy MacDonald says staff need to continue to be vigilant. (CBC)
The campaign reminded employees to wash four times: Before patient contact, before a task such as putting in an IV, after contacting bodily fluids and after patient contact.

The most overlooked time was before patient contact. The rates refer to overall incident compliance, not the percentage of individuals complying.

"It's very rare that you would see a blatant disregard for hand hygiene by one person, which means they would go from place to place, bed to bed, never washing their hands. Usually the case is they may miss one moment here, or one moment there. So they are washing their hands, but perhaps not quite as much," MacDonald said.

She said patients should feel comfortable asking their doctors and nurses if their hands are clean, no matter how intimidating that may be.

"We do encourage people to ask. If you're a patient or your family member is a patient, and you see something, just ask," MacDonald said.

Hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent infections in hospital. The IWK did its own hand washing study on its intensive care units, and found over 90 per cent of those employees were washing properly.

Rushing can impair hygiene

Joanne Langley, head of infection prevention and control at the IWK, said overworked staff could be a factor.

"I think we need to look at how busy healthcare workers are. They have multiple priorities that are competing for their attention at any one time. Sometimes they have to rush to a patient and don't have time to do their proper hand hygiene," she said.

For comparison, Capital Health looked at 2008 data from Ontario hospitals. It showed the hand washing rate there was less than 40 per cent.

"I think if you looked across the country at the different rates, we're on par above those averages," MacDonald said.

Capital Health said it will keep auditing and educating because hand washing is an issue that tends to get worse if people are not constantly reminded of it.