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National strategy More than 50% of hospital infections ‘avoidable’

A manual for washing hands at the regional hospital Surselva

A manual for washing hands at a regional hospital in Switzerland


More than half of hospital infections could still be avoided, experts say. It has been two years since Switzerland launched a campaign to lower the infection rate, and, as a report reveals, work still needs to be done.

According to a study led by expert group Swissnosoexternal link with the support of the Federal Office of Public Healthexternal link (FOPH) – the results of which were already released in February - almost 6% of patients pick up an infection in hospital in Switzerland.

+Read about how Switzerland compares with other countries in terms of hospital infections here

It is never possible to totally eliminate all the infections contracted in a care environment, said Daniel Koch, head of the communicable diseases divisionexternal link at the health office, at a press conference to sum up the two years’ workexternal link on Friday. It’s not about finding people to blame either: sometimes patients bring infectious bacteria with them to hospital, he said.

But the situation could be improved: according to the Swissnoso experts, 35%-55% of infections could be avoided. While it’s less feasible to eliminate pneumonia and infections in operating theatres, venous catheter and urinary infections could be avoided in more than half of cases.

Bladder infections

Bladder catheters are used a lot and sometimes unnecessarily, the experts concluded. A pilot programme, run in conjunction with Patient Safety Switzerlandexternal link, is trying to reduce superfluous use of these devices: by ensuring they are only used under certain conditions, by people well versed in their use and that there are regular checks.

Also being targeted are hospital staff, as this is key for preventing certain post-operative infections. A mobile installation CleanHands has been launched to promote good practice and is being used in 100 hospitals.

Operating room infection rates have been monitored since 2009, with hospitals being able to compare their performances, the health office added.

Also concerned by infections are old people’s homes. There is as yet no wide-ranging Swiss study on the issue, but this is being rectified this year, Koch said. Some cantons are already leading the way, like Vaud which, for example, surveys the use of hand sanitiser and flu jab rate among home staff.


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