Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are one of the biggest risks in healthcare today and Canada is no exception to this. In fact, Canada has one of the highest occurrences of HAIs out of all developed nations, with 200,000 cases per year and consequently, 8000 deaths (Statistics Canada, 2016). The spread of HAIs can be prevented, as we have seen on this blog, with proper handwashing techniques as well as proper disinfection protocols for equipment and patient rooms. The problem is that hospitals need A LOT of staff in order to properly disinfect, and control and prevent infection. And yet, Canada, as well as other countries, are seeing cuts in hospital staff.
According to a report prepared by Venrock (2018), one of the predictions for trends in healthcare for 2018 was the continuation of cutting and hiring less hospital staff. This is mostly due to hospitals working to balance their budgets. But at what costs does this balancing of budgets come at?
Although not a recent report, CBC’s Marketplace investigation of hospital cleanliness from 2012 does a good job at showing the consequences of hospital staff cuts (see video below). They interviewed nurses, doctors and hospital cleaners to find out more about staff cuts and its relation to infection control.
One hospital cleaner described the following:
“They’ve really cut staff, and we don’t have a lot of time to actually get done what we’re supposed to get done in a day. We used to have one person to one wing of the hospital to clean, but now we have three floors to clean.”Anonymous, Hospital Cleaner (2012)
According to the report, in order to sufficiently clean a hospital room, it would take just over an hour. However, with the staff cuts being made, hospital cleaners are only getting on average 15 minutes for each room. This leads to a lot of uncleaned surfaces, leaving harmful pathogens in patient rooms. Furthermore, sometimes the harmful bacteria will even be spread from one room to another, since cleaners either don’t have the time to change cleaning materials or there aren’t enough cleaning materials. One example given in the report is that a cleaner will mop a patient’s room and then continue mopping into another room with the same water, simply because they don’t have the time to change the water.
Hospital staff cuts may save hospitals money, however, the potential risks that result from staff cuts are very significant and should not be overlooked. Leaving surfaces infected by pathogens can be detrimental to both patients and staff, and that is why it is essential to have an adequate number of educated staff to control the spread of infection.
To learn more about the consequences of hospital staff cuts, refer to this CBC Marketplace video: