Warning: ambulances are bad for your health

From the Swindon Advertiser, first published Monday 18th Jun 2007.

A PARAMEDIC has said the town’s dirty ambulances could be the cause of superbug infections such as MRSA.

Figures released by medical watchdog the Healthcare Commission showed that three out of the four NHS trusts running the town’s health services were failing to meet Government targets for cleanliness and patient care.

The Great Western Ambulance service failed to meet nine different standards including providing a safe and secure environment for patients, minimising their risk of contamination from medical devices and managing patients’ records effectively.

One Swindon paramedic said he was not surprised Swindon’s ambulance service had fared so badly.

“We don’t have time to clean vehicles. We transport people into hospitals and that is the weak link,” he said.

“We are giving them MRSA. For most patients the ambulance is their first port of call.

“As soon as we have cleared the hospital we are on to another job. We can only wipe down a bit of blood, but don’t have time to give anything a thorough clean.

“We really want downtime to make sure we can keep ambulances sterile and give patients proper care, but it just isn’t possible with the emphasis on targets.”

The Healthcare Commission said the ambulance trust failed to challenge discrimination, set up systems to value and develop staff and give workers adequate mandatory training.

The paramedic, concerned for the welfare of patients, said: “The training college in Chippenham has been closed down. The building is just standing empty, and we are not getting any training at all.

“They have recently had interviews for new emergency care assistants to drive ambulances. But when the applicants asked about where the training would be, they said they didn’t know.”

Director of corporate development Rachel Pearce said: “Staff at all levels have worked very hard to meet the standards set.

“In particular, we are pleased that we have achieved compliance with key areas of the hygiene code of infection control, decontamination and healthcare environment.

“This year we want to exceed our own standards on that front – and we will be introducing special cleaning and restocking teams for ambulances. This will enable front line staff to get on with the core job of providing urgent and emergency care.

“We were disappointed not to achieve 100 per cent compliance last year. However, we have a performance improvement plan in place to address this. It is monitored monthly by our board and we expect to address all standards of non-compliance in the next 12 months.”

Ms Pearce said the trust also wanted to improve staff development and aimed to target recruitment towards black and ethnic minority groups.

Swindon Primary Care Trust and Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust also failed to meet several core standards for hygiene, infection control and controlling MRSA.

Only the Swindon and Marlborough NHS Trust, which runs the Great Western Hospital, managed to meet all of its core standards.

Across the country, the figures released by the Healthcare Commission yesterday showed that more NHS trusts had failed to meet targets for hygiene than last year.

Neighbouring Wiltshire PCT was one of the worst scoring trusts in the country for hygiene.

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