PATIENTS at St George’s Hospital, London are to be given new powers to quiz doctors and nurses who forget to clean their hands.

The announcement forms part of a wider crackdown on hospital-acquired infections at the Tooting-based Trust, where cases of MRSA have fallen in recent years.

There were 93 cases of MRSA in 2003/04 compared to 115 cases in 2001/02.

The hospital believes allowing patients to question staff over the cleanliness of their hands will help lead to higher standards of hygiene and fewer infections.

The trust-wide campaign – called ‘clean your hands’ – was launched on Wednesday 1 December as part of a national hygiene strategy developed by the National Patient Safety Agency.

Research shows infections can be reduced by up to 50 per cent when hospital staff regularly clean their hands.

Announcing the launch of the campaign, Dr Chris Streather, the hospital’s medical director in charge of infection control, said:

“Cleanliness, hygiene and infection control are all important priorities for this hospital.

“We believe standards of hygiene and cleanliness have improved at St George’s in recent years, added to which we have made good progress reducing cases of MRSA.

“We are not asking patients to police doctors and nurses.

“It is clearly our responsibility to do that.

“But we hope this latest measure will prompt even better hand hygiene among our staff and give patients the reassurance they need that we are doing everything in our power to protect them from infections.”

According to hospital guidelines, staff should clean their hands with soap and water, or a special alcohol gel before and after they come into contact with a patient.

But although alcohol gel is seen by many hospital staff as a fast and safe alternative to soap, critics say the product dries out hands.

“Alcohol gel is now on all wards and clinical areas in the hospital,” explains Director of Nursing Geraldine Walters.

“Quick and easy to use, the gel is a godsend for doctors and nurses who are rushed off their feet treating patients,” explains Director of Nursing Geraldine Walters.

“However, we know some staff have concerns about the effect that the gel has on their hands.

“For this reason we are switching our supplies of alcohol gel over to a new brand that is proven to be kinder on the hands.

“We hope this will remove one of the final barriers to good hand hygiene.”

St George’s was named as a pioneer site for hand hygiene in September this year and was one of six hospitals to test the ‘clean your hands’ campaign developed by the National Patient Safety Agency in 2003.