Nova Scotia

Hospital hand washing in N.S. to be measured

All Nova Scotia health authorities will have to report hand washing rates to the province's Department of Health and make them public, under legislation proposed Thursday.

All Nova Scotia health authorities will have to report hand washing rates to the province's Department of Health and make them public, under legislation proposed Thursday.

Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said the province's nine health boards already monitor hand washing rates and report to a national safety body, but there is no uniform reporting method in order to compare rates within Nova Scotia.

MacDonald said the province's health system needs to do a better job of measuring hygiene rates.

"If you are not measuring the problem then it's very difficult to fix the problem," she said.

"We can make improvements, we should make improvements and this gives us the framework to ensure that happens and it's more apparent and transparent."

MacDonald said the goal is to eventually expand reporting to include hospital infection rates and the immunization of health-care workers.

Tammy MacDonald, the infection prevention manager for the Capital District Health Authority, said she thinks it's a good idea.

"I think it's a great opportunity for infection prevention and control and patient safety in the province," she told CBC News.

"I think people's awareness will increase and that will hopefully help."

Current rates around 40 to 50 per cent

Health Department official Suzanne Rhodenizer said the government doesn't know what current rates are in hospitals across the province and needs to develop a standardized auditing procedure.

Rhodenizer said research indicates hand washing rates in hospitals is somewhere around 40 to 50 per cent, where a more acceptable benchmark would be between 80 and 90 per cent.

"Ideally, 100 per cent would be great, but that might not be realistic," she said.

A report in March said the failure of staff to properly wash their hands contributed to an outbreak of Clostridium difficile at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital's intermediate care unit between late December and early February.

There were a total of six confirmed cases of the bacterium. Two patients died, but the causes of their deaths are still under review.

MacDonald said the legislation was not introduced in response to that specific case, adding that her department has been working on the problem for the last two years.

"What happened in Cape Breton was a situation that happened as we were doing work already around addressing patient safety and infection control," she told reporters.

"This legislation here is not a direct response to what occurred in Cape Breton. It is part of a larger piece of work that we've undertaken."

The Health Department said the legislation is expected to be in place by the fall with the reporting procedures in place by next April.

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