What does hygiene mean in hospitals?

Hygiene in hospitals Villeroy & Boch

What is hospital hygiene?

The importance of hygiene in hospitals is often underestimated. Measures for protecting health are particularly important in places where infectious and yet particularly vulnerable people come together and are cared for. Stringent hygiene can prevent infections being transmitted to patients or hospital staff. And this is not a new development in the coronavirus age – multi-resistant hospital bugs such as MRSAs are also highly dangerous for health. According to the Germany government, 400,000 to 600,000 people a year contract hospital infections. A report by the Göttingen Aqua-Institute even estimates that just under one million people are infected by hospital bugs each year.

Hospital hygiene encompasses three important areas:

  • Research: Understanding how germs are transmitted in hospitals allows more effective prevention.
  • Prevention: Preventing infection is perhaps the most important focus of hospital hygiene.
  • Combating: Any transmission of infection must be tackled and its spread stopped.

Hygiene in hospitals: Regulations and rules

Medical research, modern disinfectants and targeted measures have brought about great advances in hospital hygiene. General hygiene rules for hospitals now include:

  • Operational requirements: Sufficient hand sanitising points must be provided in every hospital. Treatment rooms should be designed to allow them to be kept clean and disinfected.
  • Hygiene committee: This committee consists of representatives from different hospital departments who work together on a comprehensive hygiene plan which considers specific features of the medical facility.
  • Hygiene plan: The hygiene plan must be communicated to all employees and updated regularly. Hospitals can also specify requirements for personal hygiene. For example, nursing staff and doctors may be required to tie their hair back or to keep their fingernails short. Recommendations for personal hygiene outside work are also possible, such as daily showering.
  • Hygiene experts: A specially trained hygiene expert checks compliance with hygiene rules and makes any required optimisations to the hygiene plans.
  • Training: Hygiene research is continuously revealing new findings with potential implications for hospital environments. It is therefore important that hospital and nursing staff receive regular training on hygiene issues.

You might be wondering: How can I tell whether a hospital is complying with hygiene regulations? Given the complexity of hygiene rules, this question is actually not easy to answer and it is impossible for anyone from outside to tell at a glance whether everyone in the hospital is complying. However, there are some signs to look out for. One important clue is correct hand hygiene.

Doctors and nursing staff should sanitise their hands before each treatment and before moving on to the next patient. If hand hygiene procedures are not followed correctly, this could be a sign that other hygiene rules are not always adhered to. If this occurs repeatedly, you can politely ask the staff about hygiene.

Hygiene measures in operating theatres

Operating theatres are used for procedures with a particularly high risk of infection. Injections, catheters or wounds can easily allow germs to penetrate the body. So as well as general rules for hospital hygiene, other regulations apply, for example:

  • Wear low-germ surgical clothing
  • Remove jewellery from your hands and wrists
  • Sanitise your hands
  • Wear a protective mask

Protective clothing for operating theatres is designed to prevent infection and protect the patient during the procedure. The following surgical clothing can therefore be useful for hygiene:

  • Impermeable surgical gown
  • Special theatre shoes
  • Sterile gloves
  • Hair protection
  • Safety glasses or full face shield

Hygiene rules for hospital visitors

Hospital visitors also have a role to play in ensuring good hygiene in hospitals. Observe the following rules where possible:

  • Hand hygiene: Pay attention to hand hygiene when entering and leaving the hospital. During your visit to the hospital, sanitise or wash your hands if you come into contact with any objects that could potentially transmit germs – such as door handles. Make sure you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and don’t forget the spaces between your fingers when sanitising.
  • Don’t touch anything: Leave the handling of hospital equipment, in particular catheters, tubes and other utensils, to medical staff. Avoid touching anything you do not absolutely need to.
  • Keep your distance: Observe a distance of at least one and a half metres to patients, staff and other visitors. Even if this is difficult, in the interests of hygiene, avoid physical contact such as hugging. This is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.
  • Don’t visit if you have an infection: Are you coughing, sniffing, have a sore throat? Don’t visit a hospital if you have a cold or infection. This will avoid any risk of bringing in germs which could be passed on to patients or staff.

Hygiene promotion programme

The German government has also committed to further improving hospital hygiene and preventing transmission of infections. This commitment is reflected in the hygiene promotion programme. Various measures have been introduced to support hospitals – including a specially trained hygiene expert and a range of training activities for staff. One key focus is correct use of antibiotics to avoid the development of multi-resistant germs in hospitals.