Tork looks at hand hygiene beyond the scope of healthcare staff and discusses with Hospital Matters how hospitals can deliver systems that encourage visitors and patients to practise good hand hygiene as well.

The press is full of reports about lapses in hand hygiene among healthcare workers, and how they can be persuaded to wash their hands.

But hand hygiene is not the responsibility of healthcare staff alone. Hygiene in hospitals could also be compromised by the unwashed hands of patients and visitors.

Many patients are hospitalised precisely because they are suffering from an infection or virus. It means they will easily transfer germs on to nearby surfaces such as bedside tables, trays, lockers, and wheelchairs.

HM20 aHospital visitors will touch those same surfaces during their visit and will therefore risk picking up the patient’s germs. And if they happen to be infected with a bug themselves before entering the facility, they will put the patient at risk of a secondary infection.

So, patients and visitors alike need to practise good hand hygiene to avoid transferring germs from one to another.

Patients may find it difficult to wash their hands if they are weak or bedridden. A study carried out by the Nursing Times in 2011 revealed that up to 60 per cent of UK patients use no hand washing facilities whatsoever during their hospital stay.

The study authors gave 200 patients access to a choice of hand hygiene facilities. It emerged that alcohol foam was by far the most popular choice compared with alcohol wipes, wet cloths, bowls of soapy water and mobile sinks. The study concluded that providing the right tools in a convenient location is key to a successful patient hand hygiene campaign.

Meanwhile, greater emphasis has been placed on the importance of hand hygiene among visitors in recent years. NHS trusts are increasingly displaying notices urging visitors to wash their hands or use the hand sanitiser dispensers provided. However, some visitors may be too distracted to spot these reminders if they are anxious and in a hurry to see their loved ones.

It is, therefore, important that all sanitiser stations are highly visible. To coincide with World Hand Hygiene Day in April 2017, we at Tork issued new research into the importance of dispenser placement. A three-year study at 16 hospitals revealed that 60 per cent of healthcare workers considered dispenser placement is a main contributor to better compliance. As a result, we have issued a guide to dispenser placement for optimum use by staff, patients, and visitors.

Sanitisers should be placed at hospital entrances, in corridors, near sinks and on walking routes. They should also be available in different formats. For example, Tork Alcohol Gel Hand Sanitiser comes in a wall-mounted dispenser as well as a smaller version to clip to the patient’s bed. It is also available in personal use bottles for healthcare staff to keep in their pocket.

One unusual method of prompting visitors to use sanitisers is the hologram nurse – a recent innovation at hospitals in London, Bedford, Doncaster, and Rotherham. When situated in the reception area these act as a virtual prompt to remind visitors about the importance of hand hygiene. Several hospitals have found these holograms are successful.

It is difficult to eliminate the risks that hospital visitors face and pose – and sometimes it requires drastic action as a result. Every year, hospitals up and down the country are forced to close their doors to visitors due to an outbreak. Visitors were banned at South Yorkshire’s Rotherham General Hospital in May; the Wirral’s Arrowe Park Hospital in April and Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary in January following outbreaks of the highly contagious norovirus.

HM20 cNeither hospital patients nor visitors can be forced to wash their hands. However, a combination of prompts and user-friendly facilities should encourage them to do so.

User-friendly soaps such as Tork Mild and Extra Mild foam and liquid soaps are gentle on the hands. They are housed in dispensers designed to be easy to use, even for patients and visitors with a low hand strength. Tork Soft Singlefold Hand Towels have also been designed to provide a gentle and effective hand dry and are highly popular in UK hospitals.

Hand hygiene can be improved by means of a few simple measures. And this could be an important wake-up call to visitors and patients – and one that could help make real strides in reducing the spread of hospital-acquired infections.