Hospital hygiene alert

A damning report about the state of Portuguese hospitals has revealed glaring deficiencies in facilities. These include the absence of sanitary barriers, overcrowding, inadequate cleaning and insufficient lavatories – all leading to the potential spread of infections.

The report from the National Programme of Infection Control claims some of the older hospitals, and even some more modern ones, do not abide by health safeguards. Spokesperson Elaine Pina says: “Health professionals are unable to comply with hygiene rules, such as hand-washing and the use of gloves. Materials are not always properly sterilised and disinfected because hospital structures are not geared towards controlling infections.”

She says the main problem is the lack of sufficient sanitary facilities, saying, “sometimes lavatories are only in work spaces and not in Intensive Care Units”. She also claims that some public hospitals, which she refused to name, do not comply with European regulatory norms, are neglecting to use sanitary barriers and are omitting to employ a complete separation between areas containing clean and dirty materials.

“A lot of surgical materials are hand-washed and not placed in washing machines,” says Pina. The materials concerned then go to be sterilised and disinfected, but “a proper disinfecting process does not take place because they have been poorly washed”.

Pina claims that the patients most at risk are those who have had an operation and are recovering in Intensive Care Units, those linked to ventilators and those with urinary infections. The bleak picture is illustrated by provisional data from May of last year. A total of 76 hospitals and 16,579 patients responded to a national study. Of these, 9.3 per cent (1,541 individuals) had contracted an infection during their stay in hospital. And 20.4 per cent (3,382) were hospitalised with a contagious disease that could have infected other patients. “Hospital staff are often forced to keep patients with tuberculosis in communal wards because we don’t have enough isolation units,” says Pina.

Health care improving but

still inadequate

In spite of these criticisms, Pina maintains that, “hospitals are much better today than they were 10 years ago”. Meanwhile, Graça Freitas, from the Directorate of Health, conceded that, “it is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of bacterial infection in hospital when patients are so vulnerable.”

The Resident also spoke to a senior health professional who stressed it was difficult to generalise about standards because they varied according to “the human factor”. But our source confirmed that there were clear indications that some hospitals do not have suitable sanitary conditions. Moreover, he believed standards throughout Europe were generally declining in the state sector because of insufficient funding.

However, he believed that standards in hospitals in Western Europe were still much higher than in Eastern Europe. And, unlike the rest of Europe, the health professional we spoke to agreed with Pina that standards in Portugal were improving and that hospitals were better than they were 10 years ago. But he admitted that there were still conspicuous safety shortfalls, particularly regarding the handling of specific illnesses such as tuberculosis.