Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Hand washing

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 13 March 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:686

Rapid Response:

We should all wash our hands

We were disturbed by the email response to the editorial by the
Handwashing Liaison Group (1) entitled ‘Why I don’t handwash between each
patient contact’(2). It is exactly that sort of attitude the HLG is
trying to eradicate. They emphasise that handwashing is a proven, simple,
inexpensive method of hospital infection control of respiratory and
urinary tract infections, wound infections and bacteraemia. There has been
evidence on these benefits for many years (3,4). Doctors, by virtue of
numerous patient contacts, are reservoirs of pathological microbes.

Such behaviour as described in his letter flies in the face of the
overwhelming evidence. It is irresponsible, particularly in the field of
obstetrics, and it has potentially serious consequences for patients who
have a right to improved care under the auspices of Clinical Governance.

We are concerned that this simple and commonsense habit is being
eroded because of arguments regarding the economics of health care. Voss
and Widmer demonstrate that very little time is required to wash one’s
hands, and that the utilisation of alcoholic hand disinfection is an
equally efficacious alternative that consumes even less time.

He would be better served to set an example to his colleagues and
junior staff who look up to him as a role model by handwashing universally
rather than selectively.

Dr C Ang, SHO, Obstetrics & Gynaecology
Mr JL Onwude, Consultant, Obstetrics & Gynaecology
St John’s Hospital, Mid Essex Hospitals NHS Trust
Chelmsford, CM2 9BG.

1. Handwashing Liaison Group. Handwashing: a modest measure – with
big effects. BMJ 1999 318: 686

2. Weeks A.Why I don’t handwash between each patient contact. BMJ
eLetters 1999. (21 March)

3. Steere AC, Mallison GF. Handwashing practices for the prevention
of nosocomial infections. Ann Intern Med 1975 Nov; 83(5):683-90

4. Bryan JL, Cohran J, Larson EL. Handwashing: a ritual revisited.
Crit Care Nurs Clin North Am 1995 Dec; 7(4): 617-25

5. Voss A, Widmer AF. No time for handwashing!? Handwashing versus
alcoholic rub: can we afford 100% compliance? Infect Control Hosp
Epidemiology 1997 Mar; 18(3):205-8

Competing interests: No competing interests

19 May 1999
C Ang
Obstetrics & Gynaecology SHO
J L Onwude
St John's Hospital, Mid Essex NHS Trust, Chelmsford