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Grapes? Why we brought bleach to clean my dad's ward

WHEN my dad spent weeks in hospital with a debilitating and serious condition, we didn't bring him bunches of grapes or bottles of Lucozade.

We didn't plump up his pillows or read to him. We didn't even leave Get Well Soon cards hanging on his bed or sweets in his locker.

Instead, we, his four children, brought in a plain plastic box every single day, filled with bleach, detergents, biological wipes, cloths and sprays.

For weeks on end we scrubbed and cleaned, we wiped and rubbed his metal bed frame, the chair, locker, tray and floor.



DEADLY

We did it in a rota. We did it until people around us stared; until the nurses glared; until another patient's wife finally came over and asked us what in the name of God were we doing.

"We're trying to keep him alive," was the simple response. Having arrived in hospital via A&E and directly from ICU, his condition, though serious, was not infectious.

Within ten days' confinement, he had picked up C.Difficile -- a maniacally infectious, deadly bacteria, courtesy of the hospital -- one of the best in the country, it has to be said.

We knew that if he also contracted lethal MRSA, the combination might kill him. It was rife and the cause is easily known and fully preventable. Despite all our sprays and creams it comes down to one, simple thing -- proper, routine, hand washing.

And yet, a hygiene audit on our hospitals issued this week shows that one in four are not getting the message and are still putting people like my dad at terminal risk. One in four what, you ask?

Silly, uninformed visitors? Errant cleaners and porters? No -- one in four doctors just couldn't be bothered doing the right thing.

The HSE survey on hand hygiene in 36 hospitals showed that a quarter of all doctors -- medically trained to world class standards at immense cost to the taxpayers -- are highly deficient in the basics of introducing themselves to soap and water.

The same doctors, many of whom eschew neck ties in favour of dandy bow-ties (to reduce infection, don't you know), simply do not seem to get the need to do a ward round which includes washing between each patient.

MRSA costs the health service €23m per year. You are seven times more likely to die with MRSA than without. These are facts doctors have brought to our attention.

They form the basis of sober warning ads and posters issued by the HSE. But it seems they're preaching to the wrong audience. Physician, heal thyself, was never truer. Neither was the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm.

The HSE has a strangely specific "target" of, wait for it, 74.7pc compliance with "hand hygiene regulations". So, at best, even the State only expects three out of four doctors to bother with the whole soap thing.

Target

This target it hopes to raise to 90pc by 2013. So in a couple of years, perhaps the message at best will filter to nine out of ten super-clever, extra-bright professionals. Maybe.

Well that's not good enough. It's not okay that we should have to persuade medical professionals, who know far better than the rest of us how lack of hygiene can transmit infection, to do the one thing that will help prevent it.

It's not fair that patients -- many of whom don't have an assertive family to speak on their behalf -- should have to constantly ask medical staff, as we did, hesitatingly and embarrassingly, if they had, you know, erm, washed their hands?

My dad is alive today and infection-free.

In the absence of us acting like a bunch of people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I've no doubt that would just be down to luck.