The Mail today reports that at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire "Two premature babies died because staff on an NHS hospital ward did not wash their hands properly" .
The need for hygiene has been known since the days of Florence Nightingale, although the reason was not fully understood. However, these days, both the need, and the reasons, for hygiene are fully understood and there is absolutely no excuse for any staff who do not take appropriate action. It was blamed by doctors on a ‘breakdown in hand hygiene’ which, translated into normal English simply means that staff were too idle to wash their hands between patients.
But this failure is, I suspect, common to many hospitals. When my wife was in a well known hospital and recovering following heart surgery, there was a large notice on the ward door stating that "All persons MUST use the hand cleanser before entering the ward". However, although it seemed that all visitors complied with the instruction, for some reason many hospital staff didn't seem to think that it applied to them; whilst my daughter and I were standing there using the cleanser, it was quite common to see doctors, nurses and even admin staff enter without bothering.
Hand washing should be routine for staff in a hospital just as part of my routine as an electrical engineer was to check that electrical circuits had been isolated before allowing work to take place. Failure in either case can lead to deaths for which there is no possible excuse. However there seems to be a big difference between hospitals and the outside world in terms of the action that follows such a failure. If I had neglected my duties and a member of staff had been killed, there would have been a good chance that I would have been prosecuted for manslaughter, and my employer would probably also have been prosecuted under Health and Safety legislation for failure to provide safe working conditions.
Yet when it comes to hospitals, in spite of this hospital admitting at an inquest that negligence contributed to the deaths of two babies, nobody ever seems to be to blame. The staff tried to blame the parents, but as one parent said, it was extremely unlikely that a parent unknowingly carrying any infection would transfer it to any other than their own child simply because they wouldn't go near, and certainly wouldn't touch, other sick children.
I am pleased to see that one of the families have instructed solicitors to take legal action against the trust, but in no way can this be a substitute for the criminal prosecutions which should take palace.
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