The first step to help a patient in need of critical care is to call for an ambulance. But are these mobile healthcare units in ship shape and infection free as they should be, or are they a passage for greater health trouble?
A recent investigation conducted by Unison to evaluate standards of cleanliness adopted among ambulance trusts in the United Kingdom has exposed serious flaws in the system. Ambulances may be a hot bed of infections, say union leaders.
Amid guidelines that are more free willed than mandated, ambulances trusts perform the upkeep of ambulances on an adhoc basis. Many trusts did not have exclusive cleaning staff on their rolls. This is truly a dilution of expertise for paramedics, who are trained to save lives rather than maintaining ambulances.
In the North West of United Kingdom, Unison found ambulance trusts without any cleaning staff. When questioned, ambulance crews blamed unplanned schedules, time and money as constraints to proper maintenance of the ambulances.
Sam Oestreicher, Unison national officer for ambulance staff, found it shocking that special funds were allocated for hospital cleaning which did not include ambulance upkeep.
To bring an order in the disorder, Unison has stressed the need for strict standards of cleanliness which must be mandated across ambulance trusts. It might be worthwhile to take a leaf out of the London Ambulance Service, which has recently recruited cleaners on a night shift to keep ambulances perfectly clean. They also replenish the stock in ambulances, allowing paramedics more time to concentrate on their duties.
The government has reiterated that trusts must follow the national guidance on ambulance cleaning. Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "We take healthcare associated infections and cleanliness seriously in all healthcare environments. The available evidence does not suggest that ambulances are a major source of infection, but tackling healthcare associated infections is an NHS-wide issue. The Ambulance Service Association has issued guidance and we expect trusts to follow this. Trusts should also take cleaning time into account when managing their supply of ambulances to attend emergency calls."