Air coolers at University Hospital Limerick were removed due to risk of contamination

Fintan Walsh, Health Correspondent

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh, Health Correspondent

14 air coolers were removed at University Hospital Limerick

14 air coolers were removed at University Hospital Limerick

MORE than a dozen air coolers were urgently removed from wards at University Hospital Limerick “due to the risk of infection” during the summer heatwave, after staff discovered water used in the units was being taken from clinical wash-hand basins (CWHBs).

The removal was ordered as the hospital had expressed concern that the CWHBs were being misused, e.g. to dispose of patients’ wash bowls or food/beverages, which were potentially contaminated.

Water from said CWHBs was then used to fill the air coolers creating a risk of spreading airborne infection.

Hospital management has recently expressed concern over “poor practices” and “inappropriate use” of these sinks, according to correspondence seen by this newspaper. 

The UL Hospitals Group said, according to scientific literature, these basins “have been implicated in outbreaks” of CPE, one of the most challenging, multi-drug resistant superbugs in modern healthcare.

A spokesperson confirmed that UHL now has plans to replace 307 clinical wash-hand basins, “where one or more non-compliances have been identified”, which will require “a significant capital investment”.

In some cases, tackling an infection risk at a sink can close beds and cause “significant disruption” to the hospital. 

He said that the design of these sinks present “challenges for infection prevention and control (IPC)”, and that they should be for hand-washing only, and not for disposal of bed-bath water and bodily secretions.

However, management and IPC officials have had to recently remind hospital staff how these sinks should be used on a number of occasions.

On May 8 last, UHL general manager of medicine, Helen McCormack wrote to staff: “It has been brought to my attention that poor practices are occurring within wards in relation to the inappropriate use of clinical wash hand basins.”

This followed an audit of wards and sinks by IPC staff. She stated that there was a growth of pseudomonas in all clinical wash-hand basins and that KPC - a form of CPE - was found in two of these sinks. “Can I please request that clinical wash-hand basins are for hand washing only and for the disposal of any form of liquids.”

On April 26 last, the IPC team sent an email to staff reminding them of the same rules, adding: “Do not use these facilities to dispose of patient wash bowls, food/beverages etc as they can be a reservoir for cross infection.”

According to July minutes strategic CPE control committee, received under Freedom of Information, it was noted that a staff member “witnessed water from CWHB being used to fill AC units - water risk associated. IPC staff recommends that the units are removed from wards due to the risk of infection.”

The UL Hospitals Group said a total of 14 air cooling units were made available to inpatient ares in UHL during the “unprecedented warm weather in June/July”.

“These units were removed following a recommendation from infection prevention and control. The units were removed having weighed up the relevant factors relating to patient comfort and patient safety,” he said.

Commenting on clinical wash-hand basins, the spokesperson said that environmental screening and sampling is regularly carried out as part of infection prevention and control.

“If we do detect potentially harmful microorganisms on a CWHB or other surface, remedial action is taken.

“Deep-cleaning may be carried out as required or equipment may be replaced by the maintenance department. In some cases, more extensive pipework may be required and this can involve bed closures and significant disruption to the hospital.”