Politicians must stop pandering to populism about hospital cleanliness and instead listen to evidence about how to prevent hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) , concludes an Editorial in this week's edition of The Lancet.
The Editorial discusses two recently announced government initiatives to tackle the problem of HAIs - first, announced by UK Health Secretary Alan Johnson last week, the "bare-below the elbows" (ie. short sleeves) dress code for clinical staff, to start in January, 2008.
While cuffs on long sleeves can become contaminated with microorganisms, the Editorial asks: "Do cuffs transmit infection" The Health Secretary's working group stated that 'there is no conclusive evidence that uniforms (or other work clothes) pose a significant hazard in terms of spreading infection.' So on what basis did the Health Secretary make his recommendations" The working group resorted to 'informed common sense' - a level of evidence just above guesswork."
Also discussed is the UK Prime-Minster Gordon Brown's pledge for ward-by-ward cleaning in hospitals. The Editorial says: "But disinfection of high-touch surfaces is what is needed, more so than removing visible dirt. The public understandably wants clean wards and crisp uniforms, but politicians must stop pandering to populism about hospital cleanliness and listen to the evidence. Brown also plans to double the number of hospital matrons, to check on ward cleaning, and accost doctors wearing long sleeves. They would be better employed making sure doctors, nurses and visitors wash their hands properly, the proven way to stop hospital acquired infections."