Keeping hospitals clean and safe without breaking the bank

A paper has just been published in ARIC as the first academic output of the Healthcare Cleaning Forum. I blogged earlier this year to relate the inaugural Healthcare Cleaning forum, and this paper expands on the key themes: establishing environmental hygiene as a patient safety initiative, providing an overview of the importance of environmental hygiene in healthcare, exploring the human factors driving the standards of environmental hygiene along with the need for effective education, the possibilities and challenges of automation, and the cost and value of environmental hygiene.

One of the key aims of the forum is to be a champion for environmental hygiene professionals. There’s a famous story of when president JFK visited NASA and asked a janitor who was mopping the floor what they were doing. The answer was simple and profound: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” If you asked somebody working in environmental hygiene in your hospital what they were doing, would the response be: “I’m helping to maximise patient safety and prevent healthcare-associated infection.” Probably not. We need to champion the cause of environmental hygiene professionals, who lack professional status, are often not paid enough, and often have limited options for career progression.

Is environmental a treasured investment priority in hospitals?

Related to this is our perception of the cost and value of environmental hygiene in hospitals. Is our level of investment appropriate given the risks associated with inadequate environmental hygiene in hospitals? Would we really find highly valued cleaning and disinfection materials in the metaphorical safe of a hospital manager (see the cartoon above)? Probably not! We need work towards better evidence to understand the value of environmental hygiene in hospitals in the context of other investment priorities.

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