Mullingar hospital leads way in superbug war

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Assistant director of nursing Michelle Kayley, contractor Graham Baker, and Noleen Sheridan at St.Francis Hospital in Ballinderry. Photo: Thomas Gibbons

Assistant director of nursing Michelle Kayley, contractor Graham Baker, and Noleen Sheridan at St.Francis Hospital in Ballinderry. Photo: Thomas Gibbons

A Mullingar hospital has made history by becoming the first hospital in the world to introduce copper doorknobs in a bid to reduce the spread of superbugs including MRSA.

St Francis Private Hospital in Ballinderry, Mullingar made the decision to install the door handles on the basis that copper surfaces can significantly reduce contamination by 90 to 100 per cent.

Local firm Copper International, also based in Mullingar, has almost completed the fit-out of the hospital with more than 100 specially-made copper handles.

The hospital’s general manager, Noleen Sheridan, said the policy was introduced after laboratory research at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham found that MRSA and Clostridium difficile microbes die much more quickly on contact with copper-based surfaces, such as door handles, toilet seats and taps, compared with materials like stainless steel which are usually found in hospitals.

“The opportunity arose in the wake of the Selly Oak clinical trial, and we had a Mullingar-based company who could install the handles. It is estimated that 80 per cent of infections are spread by touch, and keeping surfaces such as door handles free of germs will lessen the spread. Once you touch the handle the germs are effectively gone,” explained Ms Sheridan.

“While our hospital doesn’t have many cases of MRSA or any other infections, the cost of upgrading the handles is far less than that of trying to cure infections. We are unique as a private hospital in that we have a nursing home, St Clair’s, on-site, and it is virtually impossible to have a nursing home without some infection - all healthcare facilities are acutely aware of this risk.”

She added that the newly installed handles will provide an extra line of defence to supplement essential measures such as frequent handwashing by patients and staff, cleaning of surfaces, and isolation of those with infections.

Professor Tom Elliott, deputy medical director of University Hospital Birmingham, is currently overseeing clinical trials on the use of copper in reducing some hospital-acquired infections.

While Ms Sheridan hopes other hospitals and healthcare facilities will follow suit in introducing antimicrobial copper products, ongoing monitoring will take place at St Francis Hospital’s 140-bed facility.

“It is a very new phenomenon and the research is quite new, and we will have to continue to make sure it is working,” she added.

During the first six months of last year there were 191 reported cases of MRSA in hospitals nationwide, 100 of which were between January and March.

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