And the figures show that a significant minority of healthcare workers aren't heeding the message that hand washing is a vital tool for reducing the number of healthcare associated infections.
The overall compliance rate was 81.6pc for the third national hand hygiene audit, which was carried out in the months of June and July this year.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) figures showed that the figure was a "significant increase" from the previous period when there was a compliance rate of 79.6pc, although it still fell short of the target of 85pc which has been set for 2012.
The compliance rate for the different healthcare workers was 86pc for nurses and midwives, doctors 69pc, auxiliary staff 79.8pc and "other" healthcare staff 84.3pc.
Nurses and midwives rates of compliance continue to rise -- in period two carried out in October 2011, they had an 83pc compliance rate.
But doctors have only marginally upped their rate from 68.4pc in period two, to 69pc.
Auxiliary staff would include healthcare assistants, porters, catering and household services, while "other" healthcare staff would include physiotherapists, radiologists, dieticians, social workers and pharmacists.
It has emerged that alcohol hand rubs account for nearly 60pc of hand hygiene actions.
Acute HSE hospitals are required to undertake bi-annual hand hygiene compliance audits in seven randomly selected wards. The HSE has set a target of achieving greater than 90pc compliance with hand hygiene by next year.
Overall, results from 43 HSE hospitals were analysed, which was an increase from 36 hospitals analysed in period one, in June 2011.
The Dublin North East region had the highest rate of compliance at 83pc, followed by the Dublin Mid-Leinster region with 82.7pc.
The figures found that when compared with previous audits, there was a significant increase in compliance in period three when it came to staff cleaning hands before touching a patient. It also found that there was a significant improvement in figures for cleaning hands after touching a patient and his or her immediate surroundings.
In the past, issues such as time constraints, skin integrity, inadequate physical resources -- for instance an inadequate number of sinks -- and the absence of role models have been identified as barriers to compliance with hand hygiene.