A recent spot check survey on hospital infection risks by the Healthcare Commission found only 20% of hospitals surveyed complying with the mandatory hygiene code.

The Commission published an analysis of unannounced inspections at 51 NHS hospital trusts in England, representing about 30% of the acute sector. The spotchecks are part of the biggest ever programme of inspections in the NHS, designed to assess the compliance of acute NHS trusts with the Government’s hygiene code.

The Commission found that most trusts had improved arrangements to ensure good leadership; appointed staff with clear responsibilities for infection prevention and control; and put in place policies to ensure staff uniforms are clean and fit for purpose.

But it added that the NHS must maintain the pressure because spotchecks have revealed gaps in many trusts’ systems. It found that comprehensive and consistent systems are needed to ensure infection rates continue to drop.

Just five trusts fully compliant
Only five of the 51 trusts spot-checked were compliant with all requirements of the hygienecode assessed, with more than half of the remainder being told to ensure a clean and well-maintained environment across all their premises.

While almost all lapses (97%) did not represent an immediate risk to patients‘ safety, the Commission’s analysis suggests that almost all acute trusts have more work to do to get systems for infection prevention and control in place.

27 of the trusts checked were failing to keep all areas clean and well-maintained. One in five trusts did not comply with all decontamination requirements, and one in eight had inadequate isolation facilities

Anna Walker, the Commission’s Chief Executive, said, “It is clear that the NHS is paying close attention to infection prevention and control. Trusts have made real progress with many getting good systems in place and demonstrating clear board leadership on this important issue.

“Where we have raised concerns, we have generally been encouraged by the positive and prompt response at those trusts. Importantly, we have found few breaches requiring immediate action to protect the safety of patients – and where we have, we have taken swift action. There are signs that all this is paying real dividends in terms of the impact on infection”.

Commenting on the spot check survey from the Healthcare Commission, Nigel Edwards, policy director of the NHS Confederation, which represents over 95% of NHS organisations, said, “we support the conclusion of the Healthcare Commission’s report that the NHS has made real progress in tackling hospital ‘superbugs’. MRSA rates have halved and we are making inroads into C. Difficile.

“The hygiene code is part of a tough programme of continuous improvement in tackling ‘superbugs’ and some trusts clearly need to make further progress but the overall picture is one of improvement on MRSA and C. Diff. The annual health check deals with these issues more comprehensively, and this survey can only provide a snapshot.

“NHS organisations have worked hard to develop not only the systems but also the culture of their organisations to tackle infections.”