Inspectors say medical students have bad hygiene

Students cannot wash hands of responsibility. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Students cannot wash hands of responsibility. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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MEDICAL students at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary have been criticised for risking spreading infections with bad hygiene practices, after inspectors made an unannounced visit to the city’s flagship hospital.

The Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI) team called the trainees “very poor” at hand washing and criticised them for ignoring basic rules like tying back long hair, not wearing jewellery and keeping sleeves above the elbows.

The report said “good progress” had been made at the Edinburgh Royal since a previous inspection over two days in April and May – where clean bed linen for the hospital’s pregnancy support centre was stored in toilets.

It said the standard of cleanliness had improved in the acute medical unit, while staff knowledge, understanding and use of personal protective equipment was also better at the October visit.

However, there are still several areas of concern such as sharps bins, which can contain used needles, not always being shut, increasing a risk of injury and infection.

Tests found traces of blood on a bed rail and the base of a drip stand in one ward and the frame and bed control device of another. And checks on mattresses discovered half the covers to be dirty and six out of ten commodes were contaminated despite being marked as clean.

Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patient Association, said she was worried that students were not observing basic hygiene rules so early in their careers.

She said: “If they are not doing it at this stage when they are learning then I am very concerned for the future.

“They have got uniforms and they should wear them properly, the rules should be enforced. It shouldn’t take a month either, they should get 48 hours’ notice and that’s it.”

Overall, four requirements for improvement were made by the HEI team to improve hand washing, ensure staff are appropriately dressed, and that staff follow the procedures for monitoring and cleaning patient equipment.

An action plan was agreed with the health board to make the changes within a month, or risk being referred to the Scottish Government.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw MSP said lessons should have already been learned.

He said: “Many of these failings have been highlighted before at this hospital and it’s unacceptable that they should be rearing their head again. After all, we have been through on the consequences of poor hygiene it is astonishing to find the next generation of medical students failing with handwashing.”

Fiona Cameron, head of infection prevention and control, NHS Lothian, said she was pleased with the progress to date and added the trust had since invested in 200 new mattresses.

She said: “We are working proactively to address the recommendations highlighted by the inspectors and have already implemented new ways of working which will ensure that cleaning schedules meet the specific needs of the acute medical unit.

“We are addressing the remaining requirements as a matter of priority as part of an ongoing improvement plan.”