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New fears over hospital hygiene

PUBLISHED: 15:57 20 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:38 07 September 2010

Maria De Witte @ RFH
Maria is a liver transplant patient at the Royal Free and she is blowing the whistle on the shoddy hand-washing practises at the liver ward and the blood room. She will also give you a picture she took of a filthy looking sink at the hospital.

Maria De Witte @ RFH Maria is a liver transplant patient at the Royal Free and she is blowing the whistle on the shoddy hand-washing practises at the liver ward and the blood room. She will also give you a picture she took of a filthy looking sink at the hospital.

© Nigel Sutton 17 Redington Rd,London,NW37QX. Phone 020 7794 3008. email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

FEARS about infection control at the Royal Free Hospital have resurfaced, after a manager allegedly admitted to a patient that his staff do not wash their hands with soap and water. In May this year a report from the Office of National Statistics showed t

FEARS about infection control at the Royal Free Hospital have resurfaced, after a manager allegedly admitted to a patient that his staff do not wash their hands with soap and water.

In May this year a report from the Office of National Statistics showed that between 2002 and 2006 the Hampstead hospital had 39 deaths from the Clostridium difficile superbug and 30 from MRSA.

The latest revelation about procedures in the hospital's 'blood room' has led to fresh worries that infection control measures at the Royal Free are not being followed.

Last Tuesday liver transplant patient Maria De Witte - who is herself a nurse - was left fuming when a member of staff refused to wash her hands before taking her blood.

"I've never been very happy with the Royal Free," said Ms De Witte. "I have been treated at the hospital since July 2007. They never wash their hands in this ward. It's terrible.

"Nobody needs to go through the humiliation I went through. Can you imagine someone refusing to wash their hands and then refusing to take your blood? Maybe you would treat a dog like that, but not a person.

"The Royal Free is in a posh area of London and you would expect better. This is not a ghetto."

When she complained about the nurse's refusal to wash her hands, she was told by the blood room manager they do not wash their hands with soap and water because there is only one sink in the blood room and it is dirty.

Instead they use alcohol gel which, while effective against most infections including MRSA, does not stop others like the potentially fatal Clostridium difficile.

Following a formal complaint by Ms De Witte, the hospital has now promised to undertake a "detailed review" ensuring its facilities and staff procedures are robust.

In September this year Ms De Witte developed a critical infection at the Pond Street hospital, which she believes was the result of staff not washing their hands.

Originally from Belgium, she came to England in 2000 and has worked in a number of hospitals as a freelance cardiac care nurse, but she says the Royal Free is among the worst she has encountered for hygiene.

While figures show the hospital is performing well within government targets for infection control during the current year, a group representing patients in Camden has counselled caution. Neil Woodnick, vice chairman of the Camden Local Involvement Network, said the situation in the hospital's blood room is "ridiculous."

"Why can't the sink be cleaned if it's dirty?" he asked. "This patient was absolutely right to insist that staff wash their hands. Washing your hands properly is more important than using the gel.

"Things have improved a lot in recent years at the Royal Free both generally and in terms of the awareness of infections, and I hope this is an isolated incident."

A Royal Free spokeswoman said after initial investigations, the staff member who refused to wash her hands has been reminded of best practice regarding hand hygiene and patient reassurance.

"The hospital is committed to a zero-tolerance approach to all healthcare-acquired infections and the structures and processes in place to manage infection prevention are robust," added the spokeswoman.

"Our hand hygiene policy clearly describes when to use gel and soap and water. This reflects current national guidance and is a mandatory part of staff induction and training.

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