By: Elmo Ropponen

Medanta produces work and patient clothes for Finnish hospitals and nursing homes. We have been seeking ways to reduce the spread of hospital infections – or even prevent such infections – by means of employee and patient clothing. According to research, clothing plays a role in the spread of microbes, which is why we have developed antimicrobial clothes for patients and healthcare professionals.

For a long time, we have cooperated with Veli-Jukka Anttila, a long-standing infectious disease specialist with the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS). I greatly appreciate the work that Anttila and his colleagues carry out in the prevention of infections. I decided to ask him a few questions – and he gave answers that are worth knowing for everyone.

What is the level of hospital hygiene in Finland?

We are at a good European level. Around 10 per cent of patients in university hospitals catch an infection related to treatment while in hospital. Around 750 people in Finland die from hospital infection annually. Some of these deaths can be prevented. The Nordic countries and Holland lead the way in the prevention of infections. Holland is a small country, but its resources are on an entirely different level to our resources here in Finland.

How are infections monitored?

The new Infectious Diseases Act obligates institutions in the healthcare and social services sector to monitor infections. However, in terms of openness, we still have plenty of room for improvement. In the United States, every hospital publishes its infection statistics online. In addition to openness, I hope for more innovation. We have good ideas, and international contacts are important in developing them further.

What is the cost of insufficient hospital hygiene?

We don’t have detailed figures on the current situation. However, in 2002, the annual cost of infections was estimated to be EUR 200–500 million. Indifference to the prevention of infections is costly, as an entire ward may need to be closed down, which also interrupts the operation schedule. Operation appointments are sold well in advance, and the time the patient spends at the hospital is calculated carefully to ensure efficiency. The cost increases if such a fine-tuned process is interrupted by infections.

What have we achieved in terms of preventing infections?

Planning at hospitals and institutions is crucial. Personal hospital rooms prevent infections from spreading. The situation is the opposite with crammed facilities and shared bathrooms. Insufficient processes and personnel resources also increase the risk of infection in hospitals. The longer the delay in treating the patient, the more difficult the situation will become. For example, the risk of infection increases if an operation is delayed.

The placement and use of hand disinfectants are also important. Patients should always have easy access to hand disinfectants – this would also help healthcare professionals remember to always use them.

What is our general level of awareness of infections or hospital bacteria?

Today, people are aware of the importance of hand hygiene. It’s promoted a lot, but there is still room for improvement. People’s awareness of the risk of infection increases during pandemics because of the media attention, but our day-to-day work is not newsworthy, even though it lays the foundation for the prevention of infections.

Who is involved in the prevention of infections at hospitals?

Everyone working in a hospital is responsible for preventing infections. Infectious disease specialists and hygiene nurses, as well as microbiologists working in laboratories, are responsible for providing training to staff.

I do not usually consult patients directly, but I discuss their infection issues and treatment with other doctors in my role as a consulting infectious disease specialist. I cooperate with specialists in various fields on a daily basis.

What are healthcare professionals’ attitudes towards the prevention of infections?

Attitudes change slowly. Fortunately, no one now thinks that the issue does not concern them. Surgeons are highly invested in the treatment of their patients. They understand that a difficult infection may render their input useless, no matter how skilful they are in their profession.

If it’s suspected that infections have increased among patients, the situation must be addressed immediately. In such cases, it’s important to involve the entire staff in the planning process, from the ward domestic to the manager. During epidemics, cleaning is particularly important, including laundry management. Ward domestics play a key role in stopping epidemics.

What is the role of work clothing in the prevention of infections?

This aspect has not yet been researched to a sufficient degree. We spread infections if our work clothes do not meet the requirements.

We favour short sleeves because of hand hygiene. The operating theatre must be as clean as possible, meaning that dust-free materials are important.

Patient clothing should also be rethought, as comfortable clothes are an essential part of a good hospital experience. Patients should be able to feel that their hospital clothes are both safe and pleasant.

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