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National hospital hand-washing campaign ‘effective but expensive’

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A national hand hygiene campaign run in Australian hospitals successfully reduced risks of a potentially deadly “golden staph” infection, according to researchers.

Many hospital patients were protected from the infection by the campaign, said study author Professor Nicholas Graves from the Queensland University of Technology.

“We will never have enough money to fund all the prevention and treatment we would like”

Nicholas Graves

He evaluated the National Hand Hygiene Initiative in 50 Australian hospitals across the country’s states and territories from 2009 to 2012.

The initiative promoted “five moments of hand-hygiene” to highlight critical times for health workers to wash their hands to control infection.

It was similar in style to the earlier Cleanyourhands campaign, which was rolled out across England and Wales by the former National Patient Safety Agency, with the aim of reducing Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia and Clostridium difficile infection in hospitals.


An evaluation of the NHS programme from 2004-08 suggested that it was accompanied by a fall in rates of MRSA and C difficile. However, there was no change to MSSA rates and the procurement of soap and alcohol hand rub tripled, according to the study published in the British Medical Journal.

The Australian campaign, meanwhile, was found to be effective overall, with a cost per life year gained of around £14,850, according to findings published this week in the journal PLOS One.

But Professor Graves noted that it was an expensive programme that cost the equivalent of around £1.45m each year, plus results varied between regions.

“We know that healthcare costs are spiralling upwards and that we will never have enough money to fund all the prevention and treatment we would like,” said Professor Graves.

“The National Hand Hygiene Initiative worked, but it was quite an expensive way to generate health benefits,” he said.

He added that policy makers should take note of the variability in cost-effectiveness between different regions and “tailor hand-hygiene campaigns to the local conditions”.

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