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What hope is there when hospital staff can't wash their hands?

PUBLISHED: 18:03 16 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:57 07 September 2010

Nearly 40 per cent of staff at the Royal Free hospital witnessed potentially harmful errors or near misses in a single month. The figures were revealed during a Healthcare Commission survey

By Tan Parsons

Nearly 40 per cent of staff at the Royal Free hospital witnessed potentially harmful errors or 'near misses' in a single month.

The figures were revealed during a Healthcare Commission survey, which also found that the Royal Free and other hospitals did not provide adequate facilities for staff to wash their hands.

Last year, the Ham&High exposed serious problems on the Royal Free maternity wards.

The Royal Free and the Whittington Hospitals were ranked in the bottom fifth of hospitals in England where there was poor availability of hand-washing materials. University College London was "below average".

Health Commission chief executive Anna Walker said: "Trusts must make sure frontline staff always have the necessary equipment to wash their hands. There are trusts out there who've shown that it is possible to do this well."

Camden hospitals also have some of the highest rates of staff bullying in the country, say new figures. The government's health watchdog revealed more than a quarter of workers at the Whittington, Royal Free and UCL hospitals have experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from other staff during the past 12 months.

At UCLH, 28 per cent of workers reported being bullied compared with a quarter of staff at the Whittington and 24 per cent at the Royal Free. It means all three hospitals are in the top 20 per cent in England for bullying rates among staff, while workers at the Whittington are among the most likely to encounter abuse from patients and the public.

The British Medical Association said: "The vicious cycle of bullying in medicine has to stop. Bullying is not just a problem for students, juniors and staff grade doctors. Consultants can be bullied by their peers and by managers. The highly pressurised target ethos in the health service only adds to the culture of bullying, where it can be mistakenly seen as a way of motivating staff."

The findings emerged from a survey of 155,000 NHS staff carried out from October to December last year.

Ms Walker said: "Trusts must continue to step up to this challenge because it is unacceptable for NHS staff, who provide vital, often life-saving care, to be put in the position where they face violence and abuse as they go about their day-to-day work."

The Royal Free said: "We are concerned about staff who feel they have been bullied and we are undertaking mediation and management training to help improve this problem. The number of staff witnessing harmful errors has fallen significantly since last year and we are addressing that through a number of measures."

The Whittington's director of human resources, Margaret Boltwood, said: "In the past year more workplace harassment advisers have been appointed. The Whittington has addressed the issue of hand-washing materials since the survey was conducted last year. Ninety-nine per cent of our staff have attended specific hand-washing training, as we take infection control so seriously."

tan.parsons@hamhigh.co.uk

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