Hospital infection control: old problem – evolving challenges

Hospital infection prevention and control (IPC) is often regarded by doctors as mundane and unnecessarily rigid, but the continued occurrence of preventable healthcare‐associated infections, increasing antimicrobial resistance (to which hospitals are major contributors) and rare, but potentially devastating hospital outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases, suggest that IPC must be taken seriously. Healthcare professionals often fail to comply with effective, evidence‐based IPC practices and there is ample evidence that doctors, generally, do so less consistently than nurses. However, doctors’ practices are highly variable, apparently because of a perceived entitlement to clinical autonomy. In practice, most doctors observe safe IPC practices, most of the time. However, some are ignorant or dismissive of IPC policies and some respond angrily, when reminded. Among a small proportion of senior consultants, negative attitudes to IPC are perceived by their peers to correlate with a more general failure to meet their public hospital commitments, apparently because of conflicting demands, including private practice. The fact that breaches of IPC practice have significant, although often hidden, consequences indicates a need for continued improvement based on new strategies that might include: better surveillance, to identify and inform doctors of the true burdens of healthcare‐associated infections; professional self‐reflection on falsely dichotomous claims of medical professionalism namely: clinical autonomy versus regard for patient welfare by complying with ‘rules’ designed to protect them; and review of the consequences of recent changes in healthcare delivery, including proliferation of multiple, part‐time consultant contracts at the expense of public hospital culture and status.

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