'Washing hands has saved more lives than any medical breakthrough in a generation': MRSA cases plummet as campaign helps hospitals clean up their actTriple the amount of soap and alcohol gel bought follow launch of 2004 campaignMore diligent procedures have saved 10,000 lives says report author Campaign reminded
visitors and staff to scrub hands before
touching patients, eating food and after going to the toilet

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UPDATED:

10:57 GMT, 4 May 2012

Washing away the problem: The campaign to get staff and the public to was their hands in hospitals has halved the number of MRSA cases, says a new study

Washing away the problem: The campaign to get staff and the public to was their hands in hospitals has halved the number of MRSA cases, says a new study

Thousands of deaths have been prevented in hospitals because medical staff are being more diligent about washing their hands, a study has claimed.

The high-profile Clean Your Hands campaign to encourage doctors and nurses to use soap and water or alcohol gel between patients has saved more lives than any medical development for a generation, according to the report published in the British Medical Journal today.

Following the launch of the drive in 2004, the amount of soap and alcoholic hand rub bought by
NHS trusts almost tripled.

Over the same period of time MRSA
rates in hospitals fell by more than half, while there was a
significant drop in the number of Clostridium difficile infections.

Sheldon Paul Stone who led the study, estimated that around 10,000
lives were saved because of the campaign which encouraged medical staff to take the simple step of washing their hands.

He added: ‘If hand hygiene were a new drug, pharmaceutical companies would be out selling it for all they were worth.’

There
were around 1,000 deaths from MRSA and 4,000 deaths from C.diff each year in
the mid-2000s, with the National Audit Office estimating that it cost
over 1billion a year to treat people who developed the infection.

Rates for the superbugs MRSA rose significantly in the 1990s from just 100 a year to a peak of 7,700 in 2003 to 2004. Following the launch of the hand-washing campaign rates fell steadily each year to 1,481 cases in 2010 to 2011.

Enlarge

MRSA cases started dropping in 2004 after the 'Clean Your Hands' campaign was launched

MRSA cases started dropping in 2004 after the 'Clean Your Hands' campaign was launched. Click enlarge to see greater detail

The Clean Your Hands campaign reminded visitors and staff to go back to basics by scrubbing their hands before touching patients, eating food and after going to the toilet.

Thousands of posters were put up by
bedsides to drive the message home and regular checks were made to
ensure hands were kept clean.

The
BMJ study found that the number of patients infected with MRSA fell
from 1.88 cases per 10,000 bed days to 0.91 over the four-year period.

Superbug: An electron micrograph of the MRSA bacteria which has killed thousands of people, but is now on the decline in hospitals

Superbug: An electron micrograph of the MRSA bacteria which has killed thousands of people, but is now on the decline in hospitals

Over the same time rates of C.diff
infection dropped from 16.75 to 9.49 cases, while the cases of MSSA – a
bacteria found on the skin – did not fall.

The study also found that hospital
trust procurement of soap and alcohol hand rub rose from a combined
21.8ml to 59.8ml per patient bed day over the period.

The
increased levels of soap in hospitals was linked to reduced rates
C.diff infection, while rising levels of alcohol hand rub were
associated with a reduction in MRSA cases.

The number of MRSA infections fell to 1,114 for the period 2011-12.

Studies in 2004 showed one in four doctors and nurses in Britain still did not wash their hands reliably between every patient.

The campaign which ended in 2010 cost 500,000 over four years.

Researchers
from University College London Medical School and the Health Protection
Agency say 'strong and independent associations' between the rise in
soap orders and the fall in infection rates ‘remained after taking
account of all other interventions’.

Changing attitudes: Doctors and nurses are now taking more care to wash their hands using soap or alcohol gel between seeing patients

Changing attitudes: Doctors and nurses are now taking more care to wash their hands using soap or alcohol gel between seeing patients