Opinion Former Article

MRSA Action UK: Thousands of lives saved by the cleanyourhands campaign

It is estimated that around ten thousand lives have been saved over four years by NHS trusts during the lifespan of the cleanyourhands campaign.

The dramatic result was achieved by persuading doctors and nurses to do what they have known for 180 years, but often neglect - wash their hands between seeing every patient. Ignaz Semmelweis introduced rigorous hand-washing rules in the Vienna Maternity Hospital in the 1840s, saving women from childbirth fever.

Our modern equivalent, the cleanyourhands campaign saw orders for soap and alcohol hand rub placed by NHS trusts triple while infection rates with hospital superbugs - MRSA bloodstream infections and Clostridium difficile cases halved from 2004 to 2008. It is estimated it saved more lives than any medical advance for a generation.

MRSA Action UK are members of the Independent Alliance of Patients & Healthcare Workers for Hand Hygiene which calls on the Department of Health for the campaign to be followed up with a clear national strategy to drive further improvements in hand hygiene.

The campaign, which was launched and co-ordinated by the National Patient Safety Agency in 2004, aimed to change healthcare workers’ hand hygiene behaviour. The campaign was discontinued in December 2010. We know, however, from the field of public health, that sustainability of any behaviour change programme requires continued activity, research and engagement.

The Hand Hygiene Alliance (www.idrn.org/alliance.php) has come together as patients and as healthcare workers across all spectra of the health services, as research workers and supply agencies, to ensure that the achievements of the campaign are maintained and built upon. We will promote the importance of a high standard of hand hygiene by every healthcare worker and personal carer, based on the best available evidence, as a pre-requisite of high quality and safe care. We will work with patient advocacy groups, health and social care organisations, inspection agencies, commissioning groups and other key stakeholders to achieve this.

Derek Butler
MRSA Action UK
07762 741114
Email: derek.butler@mrsaactionuk.net



Bacteria and viruses contaminate hands very easily and it is only common sense to remove them before we care for patients. Carrying out effective and timely hand hygiene is a critical action to avoid spread of infection in healthcare settings. Improvements in hand hygiene reduces infection, saves lives and reduces healthcare costs.

It is well known that healthcare workers’ compliance with hand hygiene is poor, with average compliance at 25-40% in many studies.

Significant improvements in hand hygiene awareness and compliance by healthcare staff have occurred since 2005, when the English National Patient Safety Agency launched the “cleanyourhands” campaign (also adopted in Wales).
This was the first national hand hygiene campaign in the world.

The campaign consisted of provision of bed side alcohol hand rub, posters on each ward encouraging healthcare workers to wash their hands, materials empowering patients to remind healthcare workers to wash their hands and audit of hand hygiene compliance.

This campaign was instrumental in raising awareness of the importance of hand hygiene and provision of resources such as hand sanitisers. It also delivered key messages to inform the focus of healthcare workers and the public on hand hygiene as a core patient safety issue.

A comprehensive evaluation of the cleanyourhands campaign has shown that this important intervention has produced sustained improvements in hand hygiene over time. These have contributed significantly to observed reductions in healthcare-associated infections and restoring the public’s confidence that they are being treated safely in our hospitals and other healthcare establishments.

We know, however, from the field of public health, that sustainability of any behaviour change programme requires continued activity, research and engagement.

A new Hand Hygiene Alliance has been formed as a response to the closure of the national cleanyourhands campaign to continue to promote the importance of hand hygiene for patient safety. The Alliance is breaking new ground in that it unites patient advocacy groups, health and social care organisations and other key stakeholders to achieve a high standard of hand hygiene, based on the best available evidence.

The Alliance supports Hand Hygiene for Every Person, by every health care worker - ‘At the right time, every time’.

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