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Hospital infections could be halved by clean -

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ELEANOR HALL: The body advising the nation's health ministers says hospital infection rates could
be halved if health workers simply washed their hands more regularly and more thoroughly.

The Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Health Care has presented its report to health
ministers meeting in Canberra today.

It has found that around 200,000 people each year are contracting infections within the healthcare
system.

Chief executive Professor Chris Baggoley has been telling Tanya Nolan what proportion of these
infections are those more deadly ones that infect the bloodstream.

CHRIS BAGGOLEY: Now our experts tell us that there are around 7,000 patients a year have staph
aureus in their bloodstream; and as you would imagine, having bacteria actually within your
bloodstream is quite a serious event, and can certainly be life-threatening.

TANYA NOLAN: And what is the death rate from these bloodstream-borne infections?

CHRIS BAGGOLEY: Well, the data we have shows that if you have a bloodstream infection, 19 to 27 per
cent with such an infection will die, and there's concern in fact that if it is staph aureus that
rate is even higher.

And the reason we are focusing on staph aureus is that, that is the one where attention
particularly to hand hygiene can make the biggest difference.

TANYA NOLAN: So are you saying that a lot of these infections, including golden Staph, are because
doctors, nurses, staff aren't washing their hands?

CHRIS BAGGOLEY: Yes, if they were able to pay the full attention to hand hygiene then that would
make a big difference. Now, it is important to understand that doctors and nurses and other staff
do wash their hands, but they need to really make a difference and maybe every time they encounter
a patient, there can be three of four times they need to pay attention to hand hygiene, even with
the one patient encounter.

So we need to work with them and I say, all jurisdictions are doing this, and we are working with
them to make sure that there is no opportunity to spread infection that is let go (phonetic)
without hand hygiene.

TANYA NOLAN: And what is the overall cost per year of these hospital-based infections?

CHRIS BAGGOLEY: Well, Tanya, we know that there's two million extra bed days occupied by patients
because they have picked up healthcare associated infection. The cost, we're told, of surgical site
infections and not just hospital costs but other costs as well associated with that, is $20 million
per year.

TANYA NOLAN: Why are there so many hospital-based infections?

CHRIS BAGGOLEY: Just normally, we have say the staph aureus, or the golden staph bacterium on our
skin; and as long as our skin is intact, it doesn't invade the skin, but when you go to the
hospital and you have lots of holes put on you, and the bacteria can migrate inside. So, and when
you have patients of course that are sick, whose defences are down, then they are more prone to
pick up infections that are around.

TANYA NOLAN: So even with the standard practice of sterilising hospital equipment and doctors,
nurses, staff washing their hands, infections are still possible?

CHRIS BAGGOLEY: Yes, infections are still possible because people bring in their own bacteria and
because they are often very sick. But the big attention that we can make sure is paid to this does
relate to the habits of healthcare workers, and the cleanliness of the environment.

So there are things we can do, and are being done.

TANYA NOLAN: What proportion of infections are picked up in hospital, and what proportion are
brought in from outside?

CHRIS BAGGOLEY: It will depend on the varying bacteria and so on, and even to the population. So we
know that, I'm learning, in Western Australia community-acquired staph aureus infections are
looming as a significant problem. But this 200,000 infections per year are those that are
healthcare associated.

So they're not ones that people have come in with, because people say with pneumonia come in with
an infection. The important thing is to make sure that the infection that they've got from their
pneumonia doesn't get spread to other people.

ELEANOR HALL: Professor Chris Baggoley is the chief executive of the Australian Commission for
Safety and Quality in Health Care, which advises the nation's health ministers. He was speaking to
Tanya Nolan.