[Skip to content]


Hand hygiene


Q. Is hand hygiene as important as the cleanyourhands campaign suggests?

A. Hand hygiene is one important component in the battle against healthcare associated infection (HCAI). Minimising risks of infection to patients depends on a range of factors. However, just by increasing compliance with hand hygiene at the point of care you can dramatically reduce the risk of a patient acquiring a HCAI. This is supported by scientific evidence, not just opinion, which demonstrates that the bacteria that cause HCAIs are most frequently spread from one patient to another on the hands of healthcare staff.



Q. Does handwashing or using the handrubs really make a difference?

A. The evidence has been described as ‘completely overpowering’. There are studies dating back to the 1950s and 60s that found hand hygiene to be critical in preventing the spread of microorganisms that cause infection in hospitals.



Q. Why is hand hygiene compliance at such a low level?

A. There are many reasons: lack of sinks, activity levels on the wards/departments, staffing levels, staff perceptions about soap and its irritant effects, lack of role models, lack of organisational support for hand hygiene - to name but a few. All of these reasons add to the low internal motivation which staff have for performing timely and effective hand hygiene. The NPSA cleanyourhands campaign, of which alcohol handrub at the point of care is one part, is designed to help organisations address a range of the reasons for low compliance.



Q. Is hand hygiene improvement only an issue for acute hospitals?

A: Healthcare is not just delivered in acute NHS hospitals. The proportion and range of care that is being delivered outside acute hospitals is increasing. The risk of HCAI remains regardless of where the care is being provided, including HCAI caused by microorganisms unintentionally transferred by staff providing health or personal care. By improving compliance with hand hygiene at the right moments, we can reduce the risk of HCAI.


Because of changes in how care is delivered it is important to recognize that staff and patients cross care setting boundaries. Patients and service users may receive care in a number of settings. Also staff may work in more than one geographical location. This is why the same approach to hand hygiene is required across the healthcare economy to ensure consistency.


The need for good hand hygiene among staff providing non-acute health care has long been recognised by infection control professionals working in the community. For this reason, there were calls for the cleanyourhands campaign to be made available outside acute hospitals since its inception.



Q. Is hand hygiene really that important?

A. Yes. It is a simple concept, but ultimately improving hand hygiene compliance by healthcare staff will help to save lives.