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Wall-mounted sprays in health centres and hospitals 'not as effective as soap and water'
Hard-pushed NHS trusts up and down the country are spending thousands every week on gel sprays in bids to avoid visitors transmitting infections, when simple soap and water is cheaper and far more effective.
That's the opinion of a national cleaning company that finds that more than half of visitors to hospitals, health centres and doctor's surgeries ignore the dispensers and enter the premises with unwashed hands.
According to ContractCleaning.co.uk hospitals would be better served if visitors were obliged to wash their hands with soap on their way in, rather than just a cursory spray and rub from a dispenser.
"These gel dispensers came as a result of managers deciding that something visible needed to be done in the wake of scandals over hospital cleanliness and virus outbreaks," says ContractCleaning.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall. "But the fact remains that they exist only as a reassurance to visitors that they are visiting a - presumably - spotlessly clean establishment.
"We know from bitter experience that it is probably not the case."
According to figures from a survey conducted on behalf of the company, fewer than one-in-three hospital visitors sanitise their hands as they enter a hospital or a health centre, and half of those that do only do so because they feel "guilt tripped" into it.
ContractCleaning.co.uk also found that health staff were negligent when it came to cleaning their hands, with a quarter saying they didn't bother or forgot on a regular basis. One anonymous staff member told ContractCleaning.co.uk: "I'm only clerical staff, and I'm never in contact with patients. What harm can I do?"
The biggest sinners, however, are patients and staff who pop out for a quick smoke outside the hospital premises. Eight out of 10 admitted that they didn't wash their hands after smoking, despite the poisons contained in cigarettes.
However, the company believes that even if all staff and visitors used gel dispensers, they'd never be as effective as soap and water, an opinion backed up by the US government's Center for Disease Control.
* The CDC says that most gel sanitisers do not kill some kinds of germs, with some bacteria showing signs of becoming resistant to alcohol-based gels.
* They may not even work at all when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
* The best way to thoroughly clean hands is to use soap and hot water, the government agency says.
"This isn't just the opinion of a few government pen-pushers, either," says Mark Hall, "This comes from peer-reviewed research over the several years by scientists all over the world.
"The conclusion is that British health trusts are wasting money on these dispensers that are just not effective enough."
ContractCleaning.co.uk says that if the NHS is serious about tackling the spread of infection in its hospitals, it should consider mandatory hand-washing before entering areas where visitors come into contact with patients and staff.
Non-touch hand basins, non-touch soap dispensers and non-touch 'blade' driers should be installed to make the concept entirely possible in hospital entrance vestibules, he says. Gone are the days of greasy taps and bins overflowing with paper towels.
"It's basic hygiene, and there are both cash savings to be made, and savings in terms of health to be reaped," he argues.
"The technology - both ancient and modern - is there. Hospitals should be trying it."
19th February 2015