Bay of Plenty DHB hospital staff overall failed to meet national handwashing standards during New Zealand's Covid-19 crisis.
The information was revealed during a Bay of Plenty District Health Board (DHB) meeting last week.
An audit that focussed on the "five moments for hand hygiene", which hospitals use to identify the areas where health professionals must wash their hands, showed hospital staff at Tauranga Hospital were unable to meet the national target of 80 per cent.
Overall, from March 1 this year, to June 30 the DHB had a compliance rate of 77.8 per cent - a reduction of 0.5 per cent from the previous audit period of 78.3 per cent.
Tauranga Hospital recorded a compliance rate of 76.1 per cent, down from the last audit of 76.8 per cent, between November 1, 2019, and February 28.
At Whakatāne Hospital, hospital staff were compliant 83.6 per cent of the audited time, up from the last period at 83.2 per cent.
The audit analysed nurses, midwives, cleaners and meal staff, orderlies, medical staff, allied health care workers, invasive technicians, health care assistants and students.
The five moments of hand hygiene are before and after touching a patient, before clean procedures, after body fluid exposure or risk, and after touching patient surroundings.
A more specific breakdown of staffing sectors showed:
• Medical staff at Tauranga rose to a 60.2 per cent compliance rate, up 6.7 per cent from the last period.
• "Unusually" medical staff at Whakatāne dropped below the compliance rate at 76.7 per cent down from 82.5 per cent last period.
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• Allied Health also required improvement strategies as the report stated it was consistently hovering at the 70 per cent rate.
• Nurses at Tauranga dropped below 80 per cent for the period achieving 79.2 per cent.
Acting interim chief executive Pete Chandler told the meeting: "We're not thrilled with it".
"But I don't want people to go away from this thinking people aren't washing their hands. It's that people are not following the five key points in the documented process."
In the report presented to the board, it stated, "given good hand hygiene is one of the most important measures in the fight against healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) this makes it a key patient safety issue for us all".
In addition to posing a "grave" threat to patient safety, the economic burden for HAIs was significant but high standards represented a simple, cost-effective opportunity to minimise the impact of dangerous infections.
Between the audit dates of March 1 and June 30, Covid-19 was the focus of health care professionals with the first case in New Zealand announced on February 28.
The message from the Government and health officials was good hand hygiene stopped the spread of the virus.
Chief medical advisor Hugh Lees told the meeting it was disappointing that even through the Covid period, the results did not improve.
When questioned whether it could be a training issue or laziness, Lees said he believed it was a lack of awareness.
The board's interim chairwoman Sharon Shea asked to receive an update following the March–June audit period. Improvement plans would be requested for the relevant areas.
"This is a serious issue," she said.
Director of nursing Julie Robinson told the Bay of Plenty Times after the meeting, the audit observed thousands of actual "moments".
"Those are recognised internationally as the most appropriate moments to be cleaning your hands, whether it be with soap and water or hand gel.
"The evidence from around the world underpins the five moments being the most important times to be cleaning your hands to prevent or help reduce health care infections."
In a hospital situation, there were particular times staff should be making sure they wash their hands, Robinson said.
"All around us, even in a hospital, there are bugs around us on surfaces, just like our own home."
The "five moments for hand hygiene" is one of the national patient safety initiatives
under the Health Quality and Safety Commission and auditing of hand hygiene compliance in DHBs throughout the country is a key component of the Hand Hygiene New Zealand programme (HHNZ).
The commission told the Bay of Plenty Times an infection spread by unclean hands could have a devastating impact on a patient and whānau making it vitally important for health care workers to practice good hand hygiene.
Auditing takes place three times a year.