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Design changes could save lives by cutting hospital infections – University of Reading

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Design changes could save lives by cutting hospital infections

Release Date 06 February 2012

Door handles, security buttons and wash hand basins can have a major impact of the level of hospital associated infections, finds new research led from the University of Reading.

The work has been conducted by HaCIRIC, the world's largest research programme into healthcare infrastructure, part located at the University of Reading. The Health Service Journal this week reports findings from the research.

The findings follow the recent tragic cases of three babies whose deaths have reportedly been linked to Pseudomonas bacteria found on sink taps in the neonatal unit at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast.

The HaCIRIC research finds that:

  • Handgrip handles on hospital doors typically become more densely contaminated with microbes than ‘push' doors with a flat metal plate.
  • Many hospitals are required for security reasons to have entry pass controlled doors which get touched by all staff, cleaners and visitors. Contamination of such buttons can act as a source for microbial spread. The NHS could consider designing alternatives: foot pedals, for example, are used in some countries to open doors.
  • Some surfaces such as rims of sinks can be missed by regular cleaning - microbiological swabbing has demonstrated that these are sometimes heavily contaminated. Researchers have observed these contaminated surfaces being touched, or used to support other objects such as papers, notes, files and medical equipment, often because there may be nowhere else to put them. Such contamination may then be carried off around the hospital.
  • Many more wash hand basins have been installed in recent years. That's good if they are used, but the research shows that this depends on whether sinks can actually be seen. If visibility is obscured, either because of the design of the ward or because of curtains pulled around a patient's bed, hand washing declines.

Professor Colin Gray of the School of Construction Management and Engineering at the University Reading commissioned and funded the research which was conducted by Nigel Klein, Professor and Consultant in Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, London and by Dr Vanya Gant, Divisional Clinical Director for Infection, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. This is part of a much bigger programme of research in this area.

Professor Gray said: ‘These findings are contributing to an increasingly sophisticated and evidence-based approach to understanding the environmental aspects of cross contamination and infection in hospitals, which we hope will save many lives and reduce the costs to the NHS.'


Further information from Pete Castle at the University of Reading press office on 0118 378 7391 or, or Jack O'Sullivan, HaCIRIC Communications on 07779 655585 or

Notes to Editors

*The Health and Care Infrastructure Research and Innovation Centre (HaCIRIC) delivers world class research to support better healthcare through better infrastructure. Its work tackles the key challenges that face today's health and care systems. The Centre is a collaboration between existing research centres at the University of Reading, Imperial College London and the Universities of Salford and Loughborough. HaCIRIC is supported by funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It is the world's largest research programme in healthcare infrastructure.

The University of Reading's School of Construction Management and Engineering is a world leader in teaching and research about the management, design and economics of engineered technologies, primarily in the construction field. Its global reputation for innovation, focused on real-world problems facing the management of the built environment, attracts academics, students and industry professionals of the highest calibre. It has strong links to industry, professional institutions and governments around the world and attained a top international rating of 5 in the most recent Research Assessment Exercise.

The University of Reading is in the top 1% of universities in the world (Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2011-12) and is one of the top rated research-intensive universities in the UK.

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