CONCERNS have been raised over poor hand hygiene in Oxfordshire’s acute hospitals which could be contributing to an increase in infections.

A recent infection, prevention and control (IPC) report revealed that Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had missed its target in limiting certain types of bacterial infection this year.

While in March, five wards across the Trust scored poorly in a hand hygiene audit, prompting hygiene action plans to be introduced.

At a meeting of the OUH board yesterday, members expressed fears that the audit results from March could indicate a much wider problem.

OUH non-executive director, Geoffrey Salt said: “It always strikes me that hand hygiene is pretty basic and fundamental, especially at a hospital.

"It looks pretty scary, it doesn’t look good.

"I would like to know if this is just the tip of the iceberg and what are we doing about this?”

In the last year the Trust recorded 72 cases of Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infections recorded at the Trust in the last year.

Nineteen more than the previous year and three above the limit set by Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The bacterial infection is known to cause diarrhoea and in some cases severe bowel problems.

Speaking at the meeting OUH medical director Dr Tony Berendt said he was ‘disappointed’ with the number of C.difficile cases and admitted work needed to be done to improve hand hygiene throughout the Trust.

He said: “What the audits demonstrate is that compliance is more easily assured when they are carried out by people recognised as carrying out the audits.

"There are clearly behaviours going on when people are not aware they are being observed that are less compliant."

Earlier this month the Trust, which runs the John Radcliffe Hospital and the Churchill Hospitals in Oxford as well as the Horton General in Banbury, held a series of events to focus on the importance of hand hygiene in hospitals.

According the guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO)there are five key moments when healthcare workers should perform hand hygiene: before touching a patient, before clean/aseptic procedures, after body fluid exposure/risk, after touching a patient, and after touching patient surroundings.

Dr Berendt told the meeting that it was generally the fifth moment where health care workers would fail to follow hygiene guidelines.

He said: “The problem occurs when you’re in and around the immediate environment of the patient and don’t decontaminate, like touching the bed or the table next to the bed that the patient has been handling."

The health chief, however, argued that the Trust had recorded relatively low levels of infection and contamination in comparison to other NHS Trusts.

He said: "The issue is how to balance the alarm that figures like this will create with the reality that we have got low rates of MRSA bacteraemias and C.difficle."

Health bosses agreed improve focus on the importance of good hand hygiene in order to minimise infection rates and report back to the board at the next meeting.