The battle against hospital-acquired infections is costing the NHS an estimated £1bn each y the simple act of hand washing

It was Alexander Fleming who first discovered penicillin and prompted the widespread use of antibiotics. However, it was also Sir Alexander who predicted the advent of the superbug. When accepting his Nobel Prize in 1945 he said: “There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself - and by exposing his microbes to non- lethal quantities of the drug, make them resistant.”

Within a few years the truth of this prediction became evident. People taking low doses of penicillin would kill off the most vulnerable microbes, leaving the more resistant ones behind to multiply and strengthen when targeted with higher doses of antibiotics.

In 1966, an article in the US magazine Look coined the word ‘superbug’ for the first time in an article headlined: “Are germs winning the war against people?” This is still a burning question today.

Healthcare-associated infections pose a serious risk to patients, staff and visitors. They can develop as a result of healthcare interventions such as medical or surgical treatment, or from being in contact with a healthcare setting.

MRSA and C. difficile are among the best-known HCAIs but infections of urine, chest, blood and wounds are also common. Such infections prolong hospital stays and can lead to sepsis – where the immune system overreacts to an infection causing the body to attack its own tissues and organs. Unless treated promptly, sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure.

Antibiotic resistance is making these infections – which are costing the NHS an estimated £1bn every year - ever more difficult to treat. And the news gets even worse, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. This US-based body reports that superbug infections could claim 2.4 million lives across Europe, North America and Australia over the next 30 years.

So, does this mean we are all doomed? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), improved hand hygiene practices could reduce pathogen transmission in healthcare by 50%. WHO’s own protocol - the Five Moments of Hygiene – was introduced in 2009 to reduce the burden of healthcare-associated infections. This states that staff should wash their hands before touching a patient, before carrying out any aseptic procedure, after any exposure to body fluid, after touching a patient and after touching the patient’s surroundings.

However, an average of 61% of healthcare workers fail to adhere to these practices according to WHO. Various studies have pinpointed the reasons: some staff members claim to be “too busy to wash” while others appear to be unware of the crucial role played by hand hygiene in preventing the spread of infections.


A shortage of soap and hand towels is another commonly- cited reason for poor hand hygiene compliance. And others complain that frequent hand-washing irritates their hands and dries out their skin. But with factors such as HCAIs, sepsis and of course, death at stake, these arguments need to be overcome.

User-friendly soaps and hand towels supplied in easy-to-use dispensers will help to speed up hand hygiene for people who claim to be “too busy to wash”. Hand washing stations should be plentiful and easily accessible to minimise the time spent locating them. Dispensers should be designed to minimise the risk of soap and hand towels running out precisely when healthcare staff need them most.

Mild soaps and soft hand towels will help to alleviate the problem of dry, sore skin, while better information will ensure that everyone understands the risks posed by contaminated hands.

Tork Foam Soaps are particularly suitable for the healthcare sector since they are quick to lather and are housed in a dispenser that requires a low push force, making them easy to use for people with low hand

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