Odd Thoughts: Healthy hands 80 per cent clean

Some scary numbers have come to us from the Provincial Health Services Authority.

We have been informed that “hand cleaning rates among B.C. health care staff have exceeded the province’s target of 80 per cent for the first time.”

Delving deeper, we learn that a 2013 survey of BC health care workers determined that “93 per cent of respondents said they were aware of their facility’s hand cleaning policy, as well as how to properly clean their hands.”


Only one in 10 health care workers in the province don’t know how to clean their hands properly!

In other words, if you have reason to encounter a health care worker in B.C., you have only a one-in-10 chance that you’ll get your health care needs conveyed through dirty hands.

Actually, according to the survey, it only means that one in 10 don’t even know how to wash their hands.

We don’t really know how many are slackers who know how to clean themselves, but don’t bother.

And I’d like to draw your attention back to the “target” – the Provincial Health Services Authority actually appears quite pleased that you only have a one-in-10 chance of being served by dirty hands. They were hoping to crack the 20 per cent mark – that’s one in five health care workers not capable of cleaning their hands properly – by March 2015.

“This is a milestone achievement,” commented Bruce Gamage of the Provincial Infection Control Network of B.C., “and shows how committed everyone in the province is to hand cleaning: the Ministry of Health, the health authorities, and health care staff.”

In fact, Minister of Health Terry Lake seems quite pleased with this grand accomplishment of only 10 per cent dirt on the hands of those who work under his ministry’s auspices.

“The B.C. health authorities have been working to remove any barriers to health care staff cleaning their hands, including making sure there are enough soap and sanitizer dispensers throughout hospitals, and with clear signage. This work has clearly paid off, as the hand cleaning rates have increased province-wide since these measures were taken,” crowed Minister Lake.

Does he mean to say there weren’t appropriate hand-washing facilities available prior to the 2013 study and setting the 80 per cent target for 2015?

In our hospitals?

Forgive me if I seem a little nonplussed, but I recall being taught personal hygiene in my first years in elementary school – including how to wash my hands. The teacher walked through the classroom first thing each morning, as we showed her our sparkling clean palms and turned them over to show we had scrubbed under our nails, too.

Granted, that was a long, long time ago.

And we were just kids.

Doctors (who rated a shocking 63 per cent cleanliness in the aforementioned study) and nurses are adults (except Doogie Howser), so it’s only 80 per cent important that they know how to wash their hands.

Dr. Douglas Cochrane, chair of the BC Patient Safety Quality Council. cares about the numbers.  

“Proper hand cleaning is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of infections,” he said, and then identifying breaking the 80 per cent cleanliness threshold as an “accomplishment” and “a testament to the dedication of all health care workers in B.C.”

If my hands had been 80 per cent clean in Grade One, I would straight away have been sent to the principal’s office.

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