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Shake-up blamed for hygiene failures

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Theatre nurses have blamed a shake-up of NHS decontamination services for the rising number of trusts that are failing to meet standards for sterilising medical instruments.

The proportion of trusts that met the standard fell to 77% in 2007–2008, compared with 87% in 2005–2006, according to
the Healthcare Commission’s annual health check report published last week.

Decontamination had the lowest level of compliance for any standard in the past three years.

In a review of decont-amination services, three regional supercentres have already opened serving trusts around Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, while others still use in-house units.

The biggest decline in standards was in London and the South East, which is next in line for two supercentres.

Diane Gilmour, president elect of the Association for Perioperative Practice, said that trusts were neglecting to invest in their own units while awaiting the transfer to a supercentre.

‘Standards have slipped. Our members are reporting blood and bone bits coming back on instruments, and the wrong instruments put in sets. Operations are being delayed or cancelled and patients are being put at risk.

‘These figures reinforce our concerns, which we will be raising with the National Decontamination Team.’ Dave Godson, Unison’s national officer for health, also blamed the reorganisation for falling standards:

‘The continuing fall in cont-amination compliance is a continuing cause for concern because it potentially puts lives at risk,’ he said.

‘Trusts have taken their eye off the ball, from raising standards to dealing with drawn-out and complex contractual issues.’

In summer, four West Country hospitals pulled out of plans to introduce two privatised decontamination supercentres covering three counties due to fears that road congestion would delay operations.

Meanwhile, almost half of trusts (48%) are failing to meet targets on reducing MRSA bacteraemia. However, this is an improvement on last year, when 56% failed to comply.
Overall compliance with infection control standards improved slightly, from 84% last year to 88%, but this is still down on 2005–2006, when 92% complied.

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