Psychologists In Drive To Get NHS Staff To Wash Hands

Psychologists are to investigate what stops NHS staff washing their hands as part of a drive to tackle hospital superbugs in Scotland.

A new research project, bringing together a range of experts to probe the causes of hospital infections and to search for new treatments, is being launched today.

The team will include behavioural scientists and psychologists who intend to examine what prevents doctors, nurses and other ward workers from using alcohol gels after every patient contact.

They will also try to devise programmes that are effective in changing staff behaviour. Other strategies for curbing the spread of bugs such as the drug resistant MRSA will be developed – for example, designing the ideal cleaning regime for wards used by infected patients.

The project, dubbed the Scottish Infection Research Network (Sirn), has been announced less than a month after a study found almost one in 10 patients picks up an infection while staying in Scotland’s emergency hospitals.

Scientists said Sirn, based at Glasgow University, was unique in the UK and would help put Scotland at the forefront of initiatives to battle the problem. Tim Mitchell, professor of microbiology at Glasgow University, said: “With the increasing levels of resistance to existing antibiotics, the appearance of new diseases and the re-emergence of old diseases, it is imperative that new measures of prevention and control of bacterial infection are developed.”

The centre will look to create new treatments by studying the bacteria that cause infections and will build on what is already understood about halting the spread of disease. It is well known that hand washing is an effective defence against the spread of germs. However, current research suggests NHS staff only wash their hands 70% of the time between patients.

Dr Alistair Leanord, Sirn director, said: “We have got some evidence of why we think staff do not do it.

“Some of it is to do with time and some is to do with the facilities but even once that is taken account of, there is still a behavioural imperative that needs to be looked into and this is an area that has not been explored. The behavioural scientists are very keen that is going to be a big part of what we do.”

At the infectious disease department of NHS Tayside, a campaign has improved hand hygiene levels among staff from 70% to almost 100%.

Professor Peter Davey, infectious disease expert, said the hurdles included establishing there was a problem and convincing people it was possible to improve.

He said: “There is a mind set of, oh yes, we do do that’. But every time we have done a safer patient initiative, (practice) is always worse than you think it is.

“You have to get beyond the point of, we do not have a problem’. Then you have got to get past the stage of, yes, there is a problem but it is not my fault, there’s nothing I can do about it’.

“I think we went through all those stages with this.”

However, he said that ultimately people were able to adapt. “There are some things that you really can set the bar high for and do it,” he said. “When you go through all those processes and start measuring and start to get success, it actually motivates people.”

The Scottish Executive is funding Sirn to the tune of £100,000.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon described its launch as an important development.

She said: “Research initiatives like this will be vital in the fight against avoidable infections in hospitals and in the community. I am confident that Sirn will increase the quality and amount of healthcare-associated infection research in Scotland.”