Watchdog issues enforcement action to ambulance service after 'basic hygiene' practices ignored

The Northern Ireland Ambulance has received enforcement warnings from the watchdog after it was found to have repeatedly breached hygiene standards
Seanín Graham

THE Health watchdog has issued severe warnings to ambulance chiefs after a second spot inspection discovered filthy conditions were still rife - with basic hand hygiene ignored by some staff.

Dirty ambulances and unclean patient equipment were found by the regulator in Broadway station in Belfast and Bangor station last month, just two months after a disastrous initial inspection ordered urgent improvements to be made.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) say the failings have led to "significant patient safety concerns" and given ambulance chiefs a fortnight to act or else special measures will be imposed.

In a scathing assessment, the watchdog's medical director Dr Lourda Geoghegan, said quality standards were still being breached across the board despite previous warnings.

"We found that ambulance staff were not familiar with the steps for effective infection prevention and control - including hand hygiene. We also found that the standard of cleanliness of reusable patient equipment within ambulances and at both stations was poor. Basic hygiene, cleaning and planned maintenance at Broadway and Bangor also remained unsatisfactory.

She added: "RQIA considers that governance and operational systems at both stations continue to fall below the required quality standard. As a result of our continued concerns, RQIA has issued four improvement notices to the Ambulance Service, advising improvements required to address these significant patient safety issues."

In August, the Irish News first revealed the crisis and how demands on the service meant paramedics could not get 'stood down' for two hours a week to clean their vehicles - with blood spattered interiors and bodily fluid spillages on stretchers going uncleaned for up to a month.

A private contractor was brought in to carry out deep cleans of 999 vehicles in July - in some cases working through the night - but sources say that the measure was a 'short-term fix' and that they have reverted back to old.

An ambulance spokesman last night said they "share the concerns" outlined by the regulator and is "committed to addressing them".

"Actions plans have been developed which dealt with some of the immediate issues identified and reviews are underway of processes to ensure their sustainability in the medium to long term," he said.

"We takes seriously the issue of infection prevention and control and, while confident that these plans will result in compliance, we will continue to engage with RQIA to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of these action plans."

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