One year, not one hygiene inspection in our hospitals
INDEPENDENT hygiene inspections have not been carried out at Irish hospitals in over a year.
Staff shortages within the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) mean it does not have the resources to perform the inspections.
The safety body is no longer proactively going into hospitals to check on their hygiene standards.
"We have to prioritise our work as best we can," a HIQA spokesman said.
While it can still investigate specific complaints brought to it about hospital hygiene, at present it is not carrying out hospital hygiene audits.
The last national audit of hospital hygiene standards was carried out by HIQA back in 2009, while the last individual hygiene inspection of a hospital took place just over a year ago, irishhealth.com said.
HIQA, like other public bodies, has been subject to the recruitment moratorium and, as a result, staff vacancies have been filled, the HIQA spokesman said.
The Department of Health was aware of its situation.
HIQA's National Infection and Control Standards, published in May 2009, are currently with Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, who has yet to approve them.
The authority wrote to the Department of Health seeking additional resources to monitor compliance with the new standards, as well as the National Standards for Safer Better Healthcare.
HIQA has confirmed that the implementation of the standards would depend on the authority having the necessary resources.
The authority has a wide ranging and heavy workload in investigating and setting standards in hospital care, health technology, nursing homes and child care.
It has taken high-profile actions in the past year against a number of nursing homes and is carrying out an investigation of Tallaght Hospital's accident and emergency department.
The Health Service Executive has given a commitment that it will implement the new infection and control standards.
The Department of Health said that discussions with the HIQA were ongoing to ensure resources were prioritised and "appropriate compliance with all standards is monitored in the context of overall resource allocation".
The control of healthcare-associated infections continued to be a priority for both the HSE and the department, it added. Recent performance indicators "continued to show encouraging improvements" in the area of infection prevention and control, it said.
Reported incidence of the MRSA superbug had dropped by 48pc between 2006 and 2010, with alcohol hand-rub consumption, an important part of the hygiene effort, increasing by over 85pc between 2006 and 2009.
Stephen McMahon, of the Irish Patients' Association, said it was "very worrying" that HIQA, the body, that is supposed to monitor hygiene in hospitals, cannot currently do so as it is overstretched and action must be taken to address the issue.