Healthcare associated infections (HAIs) are an ever-present factor in every health system. They are varied and complex. Many are caused by multi-resistant organisms known as MROs that can be difficult to detect and treat.
In NSW, hospital staff maintain high infection control standards. NSW hospitals and clinicians actively participate in national and local programs to minimise the risk of acquiring an HAI. Despite this, some patients will still be at greater risk than others of contracting an infection while in hospital. This is especially true for people who are seriously unwell with diseases that affect their body's ability to fight infection, such as those suffering burns or conditions including diabetes.
Some patients can carry a particular germ - a bacteria or virus - without any adverse health effects. But this changes if the germ enters the site of an operation or wound. Some people who have become sick while at home can bring the infection with them when they are admitted to hospital. Others can pick up a germ if a wound is exposed to dirt at the time of their injury. It is also possible to acquire an infection due to the type of treatment or procedure being undertaken in hospital.
An infection will make you feel unwell. It can lengthen your stay in hospital and delay your recovery. In extreme cases, the infection can overwhelm the body's defenses and become fatal.
It is possible to significantly reduce the risk of healthcare associated infection through:
- thorough hand cleaning by everyone who enters a hospital - healthcare staff, patients and their visitors
- keeping the healthcare environment clean
- complying with standard sterile techniques for the insertion and care of intravenous (IV) cannulas and other clinical items
- identifying patients who are at greater risk of contracting an infection
- taking prudent precautions such as isolating patients who have contracted multi-resistant organisms (MROs)
- using antibiotics appropriately to prevent and treat infections.
The Clinical Excellence Commission works with hospital staff to ensure they are well equipped to protect patients from contracting infections. The CEC education programs and policies are regularly rolled out across the state to address infection risk. More information on these programs can be found on their website at Healthcare Associated Infections Program.
NSW Health has been collecting HAI data and participating in national research projects and studies for many years. In January 2008, NSW Ministry of Health introduced a mandatory comprehensive data collection system that monitors eight types of HAI data across all public hospitals in the state. Data is available on the Clinical Excellence Commissions eChartbook portal (Healthcare Associated Infections Program), which provides aggregate quarterly data while annual rates for Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections for individual hospitals are published on “MyHospitals” .
It is in everyone's interests to reduce the risk of healthcare associated infection - patients, clinicians, carers and the broader community. By working together and observing common sense precautions, we can all reduce the risk of HAIs. This, in turn, will help reduce the significant costs associated with the consequences of HAIs, including the need for more complex medical treatments, longer hospital stays that delay bed availability for other patients and the prescribing of additional, expensive antibiotics.