Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital’s own hand hygiene study is a damning indictment of the hospital’s languid attitude towards issues related to compliance that borders on dangerous negligence.

Hand hygiene, according to health experts, is a critically important practice that helps prevent healthcare-associated infections (HCAI), otherwise known as hospital-acquired infections. It has been found that healthcare workers at the hospital had only moderate-level knowledge about hand hygiene. Some units and wards at the hospital did not even have access to liquid soap and alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

That the shortage of hand sanitisers in the hospital is because of increase in patient numbers is an argument we find it hard to swallow. In fact, what this indicates is the hospital’s nonchalance towards the quality of service and care. It is widely assumed that the hospital’s failure to institute such basic infection control measures could have led to bacterial infection outbreak at the neonatal intensive care unit last July that led to the deaths of 11 babies.

According to the study, nurses and healthcare workers in critical care units with master’s degree and higher with 10 to 15 years of experience had better knowledge about hand hygiene and compliance record compared with staff who did not have any formal training on hand hygiene. About 65 percent of healthcare workers had working experience of less than six years. Observation of 380 healthcare workers with 1,102 hand hygiene opportunities yielded overall hand hygiene compliance rate of just 33.4 percent. Only 26.3 percent of healthcare workers maintained hand hygiene before patient contact.

What is manifestly clear is that hand hygiene education and training are not given importance due to them and the hospital do not see them as deserving of priority they should. The report underscores that almost 60 percent of the respondents had not received any formal training on hand hygiene in the last three years.

In developing countries, the risk of HCAI is 20 times higher than in developed countries.

Because healthcare workers are professionally and ethically accountable for the care and safety of patients, adopting effective hand hygiene practices is more than just important. Rather than getting touchy, it is about time the hospital made serious effort to raise its hygiene and patient care standards – urgently.

The people deserve better.