Headlines: September 6th, 2005

Britain’s largest health union is calling for ambulance cleanliness standards to be properly applied and monitored, after an investigations which, it says, showed many ambulance workers were worried about the infection risk posed by their vehicles. UNISON, says targets and time and money pressures are creating e a lethal cocktail that could allow superbugs – like MRSA- to thrive in ambulances.The union said ambulance cleanliness was a key factor in the battle against MRSA and claimed the failure of the government to tackle the issue was a major flaw in infection control policy. Ambulances, UNISON said, transport patients throughout the NHS and it feared there was a danger that vehicles designed to save lives were spreading lethal diseases.

It praises the London and Scottish Ambulance Services, which it said were best at taking infection control measures seriously.The London Ambulance Service is rolling out a “make-ready” scheme so that if an ambulance becomes contaminated, crews can take their vehicle back and take out another one. In contrast it says ambulance crews in Wales and the East Midlands complained that cleaning was “pretty rough and ready”.

The UNISON investigation shows that most ambulance crews are still responsible for cleaning their own vehicles and in some cases that means deep cleaning does not get done or that it is done only irregularly. Ambulance stations, the union says, have colour coded mops and buckets for different areas but they use a bewildering variety of cleaning materials and methods. Most ambulances carry some cleaning equipment and, when there is no time to get back to a depot with a contaminated vehicle, the crew is expected to clean it as best they can.

Karen Jennings, UNISON Head of Health said effective infection control could not stop at the hospital steps. UNISON had raised the matter with the Healthcare Commission last year citing a lack of joined up thinking in relation to infection control and ambulances. It was clear, she said, that ambulances were potentially the weakest link in the fight against MRSA and other superbugs. What was needed was for national standards to be applied more rigorously and for staff to be properly trained in effective procedures.