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Hygienic touch

Theme: building for health and disability - Using 'no touch' taps can reduce hospital-acquired infections through increased hand hygiene and will also save on the consumption of water, says Mike Allen

It is the common view that the main issues with hospital acquired infections and infection control are hand hygiene, hospital cleanliness and isolation of infected patients.

The National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) has trialled alcohol gel availability at each bed station with six trusts, and this initiative is now being implemented nationally. Alcohol gel is, however, an additional hand hygiene procedure and not a replacement for hand washing.

New HBN (Health Building Notes) guidelines recommend 'no touch' clinical hand-wash products, but these are often disregarded. Although the technology has been around for some time, reliability and capital cost have remained the main barrier to effective implementation.

Manufacturer Dart Valley Systems has proved through controlled trials with a major hospital that 'no touch' taps reduce water useage by 65 per cent and significantly increase hand-washing compliance. Infection-control managers and microbiologists emphasise the importance of not touching taps with the hands, particularly when turning them off, to avoid cross contamination. Staff are also encouraged to wash their hands, as the 'no touch' taps are easier to use.

'No touch' taps provide a significant example of how technology and building design can help to reduce hospital-acquired infections.

NHS Estates recognised this by recommending 'no touch' products in the latest HBN 22 and 57, and others due to be published shortly.

HBNs are, however, for guidance, and not yet mandatory, leaving local trusts and designers to make their own decisions. The need for additional funding is always put forward as the major obstacle, even if it can be demonstrated that payback on water saved is as little as two years.

'No touch' flushing WCs are also recommended in new HBNs, as they save on water and are hygienic and easy to use.

Building designers, and particularly the PFI sector, are concentrating on the 1:5:200 life cycle approach, and the Audit Office has advised that investments should be 'taking a view of the construction, operation and maintenance of the asset over the whole life of the project'. If there is a strong financial and moral case for an available proven and reliable technology that requires extra funding at budget stage, then this should be addressed.

Mike Allen is managing director of Dart Valley Systems. Contact: mike@dartvalley. co. uk

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