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College urges ward-by-ward information and whistle-blowing to tackle hospital-acquired infection crisis

17 October 2008

President’s message on the new Healthcare Infection policy

Fellows and Members have asked for clear guidance from the College on healthcare acquired infections. This is a complex area and there are differing views on various key aspects which were debated at length by Council. However, there was broad agreement which led the College to produce a policy document that Council approved on 9th October by a 26 to 9 majority.

Summary of the College’s position:

Clearly the most important factor is overcrowded hospitals which are not properly cleaned. The College would like to see patients being given full information about bed occupancy rates on individual wards. Figures released currently by the Department of Health (DH) are for broad categories of units and whole hospitals, and never for individual surgical wards, which means that patients concerned about the risk of infection cannot make an informed choice about where they go for their surgery. In order to support the implementation of our policy the College will call for the DH to start collecting figures on a ward by ward basis and would like to hear from Fellows and Members if they have this information - please email policy@rcseng.ac.uk. The College policy is not exhaustive in describing all the factors important in healthcare acquired infections but we would also welcome Fellows and Members highlighting areas such as the inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics, which surgeons can do something about – please email policy@rcseng.ac.uk.

Some of you will be disappointed that the College has not come out in opposition to “Bare Below the Elbows”, recommended by the DH and introduced in some Trusts, for which there is no clear evidence base. We cannot oppose any measure that makes hand-washing easier and therefore might, just might, be beneficial. However if evidence does emerge that it is not effective, or indeed harmful, College policy will be reviewed.

John Black