Surgical gloves ‘discourage doctors from washing hands’

13th of September 2012
Surgical gloves ‘discourage doctors from washing hands’

Doctors who wear surgical gloves are around 30 per cent less likely to wash their hands, according to a consultant.

And the belief that gloves provide a sterile barrier between doctor and patient is no more than a delusion, he adds.

"What most people don't realise is that bacteria can travel through plastic gloves," said Dr Sheldon Stone, a consultant at London's Royal Free Hospital. "I've worked in elderly care wards for 20 years and have seen too many patients get struck down with an infection that could have been prevented.

"Not only do medics fail to change their gloves between patients but gloves lull them into a false sense of security, so they actually clean their hands less often." Dr Stone has carried out his own small-scale study of 56 intensive and elderly care wards across the UK.

"We discovered that medics observe good hand hygiene - such as cleaning their hands after contact with each patient - less than half the time," he said. "But we also realised that the probability of someone cleaning their hands dropped by a third when they use gloves.

"Previous studies have shown that even if you're wearing gloves, three to five clumps of colony-forming bacteria will travel through tiny pores in the latex and come into contact with your skin every minute. And the transfer of bugs through the gloves is not a one-way street: germs can move from the nurse or doctor's hand, through the glove and on to the next patient."

He adds that medical staff tend to use gloves as an alternative to hand washing. "Healthcare workers - and ultimately the chief executives of hospitals - need to ensure that staff understand good hand hygiene," he said.



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