Now wash your hands
October 12th 2007, 12:07 | Bryan Hubbard
We've been saying for the longest time that hospital is no place to be if you're ill. The distressing news this week about the deaths of 90 elderly patients after contracting the C. Difficile bug in hospital merely adds weight to our scepticism.
It's reckoned that around 5,000 people die each year in a UK hospital after catching a lethal bug, and the picture isn't a whole lot rosier in the USA, either. Other estimates suggest that a hospital patient is infected every two minutes, and that one dies every two hours from C Difficile or MRSA.
Tragically, these are deaths that could easily have been avoided. As everyone knows - and nobody seems to want to do anything about - infections are caused by a lack of hygiene and cleanliness, and especially among the doctors and nursing staff.
It was a Victorian doctor in 1850 or so who first realised that doctors were carrying disease and infection from patient to patient, simply because they weren't washing their hands between bedside visits. Ever since, it's been part of standard medical practice - and yet almost no doctors do it. The nurses at the centre of the latest tragedy told investigators that they didn't have time to wash their hands.
The government's health advisors have tried to improve things, but without much success. Back in 2001, they created the Hand Hygiene Liaison Group, whose task it was to encourage doctors to carry out "formal handwashing with soap and water" between seeing patients, although we're not sure what a formal wash looks like compared to an informal one.
And just this year, the UK's Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson made the headlines when he suggested that patients should have their own supply of handgel ready by their bedside to offer the doctor before he begins his inspection.
The whole thing is quite absurd, of course, but, for once, we can't accuse our health watchdogs of washing their hands of it.