Curtains, basins and the spread of MRSA

Posted: 16 September 2010 by Colin Gray

Hospitals are spending considerable sums earmarked by the Government for tackling healthcare associated infection (HCAI) Extra wash hand basins have been on most ‘must-have’ lists. That makes sense. But, at HaCIRIC, we suspect that some of these improvements are being undermined by the use of curtains on wards to offer privacy to patients.

Hospitals are spending considerable sums earmarked by the Government for tackling healthcare associated infection (HCAI) Extra wash hand basins have been on most ‘must-have’ lists. That makes sense. But, at HaCIRIC, we suspect that some of these improvements are being undermined by the use of curtains on wards to offer privacy to patients.

Our research shows that curtains often shut down lines of sight to wash hand basins. So there is a drop in usage as staff use less convenient basins or, sometimes, don’t use one at all, to avoid breaching a patient’s privacy. The result is likely to be more cases of MRSA and Clostridium difficile. In one instance, where there were curtains drawn around three beds, we found access was removed from three quarters of the wash hand basins on a particular ward.

These findings tell us that, when wards are being designed or refurbished, we must try to reconcile the need for both patient confidentiality and safety so that the price of privacy is not cross infection. Our HaCIRIC team at Reading University expects to publish a paper on these issues later this year plus a high impact report bringing together a stream of work on tackling HCAIs.

The next stage of our research will explore whether the new basins are themselves being kept clean and ask whether they, themselves, may sometimes be a source of cross infection.