Ambulance Service in 'special measures' hygiene concerns
THE Northern Ireland Ambulance Service is being placed on "special measures" due to repeated watchdog concerns about appalling hygiene conditions.
The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) has formally notified the Department of Health after a string of unannounced inspections discovered serious breaches.
Inspectors visited 21 stations last month and found that while some had good standards, others lapsed on hygiene, cleanliness and infection control.
A spokesman for the Ambulance service said the RQIA has "recommended the secondment of a senior practitioner" to assist the service in "its drive to strengthen internal infection prevention and control governance and assurance arrangements"
The Irish News first revealed last August that two spot inspections of Broadway station in Belfast and Bangor station found blood spattered interiors and bodily fluid spillages on patient equipment.
Sources warned that demands on the service meant paramedics could not get 'stood down' for two hours a week to clean their vehicles - with filthy stretchers in vehicles going uncleaned for up to a month.
A private contractor was brought in to carry out deep cleans of 999 vehicles last July - in some cases working through the night - but sources described the measure as a 'short-term fix' and warned they were reverting back to old.
Last October, the watchdog said a follow-up review had led to "significant patient safety concerns" - with basic hand hygiene ignored by some staff.
Dr Lourda Geoghegan, medical director with the RQIA, said they found a "very mixed picture" during last month's visits.
"We did find ambulances and ambulance stations that were in an exemplary situation that were very clean, that is was very clear that care and attention had been taken to all of the systems around infection control and about hygiene control and cleanliness.
"The back of an ambulance is actually exactly the same [as an emergency department] - it is a clinical treatment environment and therefore it's extremely important that the standard of hygiene, cleanliness and infection prevention is maintained very high and is consistent across all of the ambulances.
"You would not expect any clinical treatment environment not to be of a high standard of cleanliness."
The NIAS has said it takes the matter "very seriously" and is "committed to take all necessary steps to ensure our stations and vehicles meet the high standards required to protect the patients who use our services".