Doctors and nurses 'wash hands less as shift progresses'

31st of December 2014
Doctors and nurses 'wash hands less as shift progresses'

Doctors and nurses wash their hands less often as their shift progresses, increasing the risk they will spread infections among their patients, a study warns.

Tired and busy staff concentrate on their medical duties and see hand hygiene as a 'low priority'. And the more stress and workload, the less compliance with the rules.

Hengchen Dai of the University of Pennsylvania looked at three years of hand washing data from 4,157 caregivers in 35 American hospitals. In the study published by the American Psychologican Association, nurses accounted for 65 per cent of the sample, nursing assistants 12 per cent, therapists seven per cent, doctors four per cent and the rest other hospital workers.

It found compliance with handwashing rules dropped by an average of 8.7 per cent during a typical 12-hour shift. However if longer breaks broke up the shift hand washing protocols were followed more carefully on when staff returned.

Dai commented: "'Just as the repeated exercise of muscles leads to physical fatigue, repeated use of executive resources produces a decline in an individual's self-regulatory capacity.

"Demanding jobs have the potential to energise employees, but the pressure may make them focus more on maintaining performance on their primary tasks, for example, patient assessment and medication distribution, particularly when they are fatigued.

"For hospital caregivers, hand washing may be viewed as a lower priority task and thus it appears compliance with hand hygiene guidelines suffers as the working day progresses."



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