The ongoing cost of specialist ventilation services in hospitals – regular inspections, testing and maintenance – can be a significant expense for healthcare trusts and other medical facilities. But it is without doubt money well spent and a cost-effective contribution to the smooth running of any healthcare operation. In this article we examine the role that ventilation services have to play in preventing the spread of infection within hospital buildings.
Airborne Hospital Infections
There are a number of airborne infections which can travel around buildings, either through natural airflow or via ventilation systems. Some of the most dangerous bacterial, viral and fungal airborne pathogens found in hospitals include:
While such pathogens present a risk to all humans, in a hospital setting it is also important to address more minor infections such as colds (Rhinovirus) and influenza (of various types, including Avian). These can present a serious risk to patients who are already vulnerable.
Clearly, contracting one of these infections while under treatment for a different condition can be hazardous to individual patients, but it is just as important to protect medical and nursing staff. While the danger may or may not present the same degree of personal threat to an otherwise healthy member of staff, if a worker does contract one of these infections they may go on to infect other patients or the wider community outside the hospital.
The Cost of Infection
There are a number of different types of cost arising from airborne infections in hospitals:
Clinical – Contracting an infection is almost certainly going to mean a slower recovery and more time in hospital. But it can also result in a very serious illness or complications to the original condition, possibly involving a threat to life. This means spending more time in hospital, which obviously incurs additional costs for that particular patient, along with the cost of medicines and possibly specialist facilities and staff (e.g. intensive care). There may also be costs associated with transporting the patient to specialist units elsewhere in the country.
Management – When a patient spends more time in hospital than originally planned, this has knock-on effects to schedules. Other admissions may need to be cancelled or postponed, which impacts on waiting list times. While this is bad enough when one patient contracts an unexpected infection, the effect is multiplied, perhaps to crisis point, if the infection spreads to yet more people. If hospital staff also become infected, this can create a major resourcing issue for the hospital.
Budgets – The unplanned extra costs of infection must inevitably hit hospital budgets, which can result in deficits and cuts to other areas. As well as affecting clinical outcomes in those areas, it can also affect whether a hospital is able to demonstrate sound financial management.
Reputation – Poorer clinical outcomes, news stories about infection outbreaks, longer waiting times and budget problems all negatively impact on the public reputation of a hospital. As well as losing the trust of the community, reputational issues make it harder to recruit, leading to ongoing resourcing issues which can take years to overcome.
Negligence Claims – If a hospital can be shown to have not carried out the necessary testing, maintenance or cleaning of ventilation services which were involved in the contracting of an infection, this could open up the possibility of negligence claims against them, resulting in yet more pressure on budgets, resources and reputation.
All these costs apply whether the hospital is part of the NHS or privately run. Preventing even a single case of infection can save many thousands of pounds, which is why hospitals place such great importance on ensuring the best possible specialist ventilation services.
Specialist Ventilation Services for Hospitals
A typical hospital will have a wide variety of different departments and types of environment in a single building or interconnected buildings. These include: general wards, specialist wards, isolation rooms, intensive care units, operating theatres and pre-op rooms, outpatient clinics, mortuaries, pathology labs, A&E, and public/communal areas such as waiting rooms, canteens and corridors. Often, all these different zones can exist within the same building, to assist the easy movement of staff and patients to the right places (e.g. transferring someone from A&E, to an operating theatre and then to a recovery ward). While this co-location helps in terms of day to day efficiency, it also creates a challenge for airborne infection control.
Having the right ventilation systems can prevent airborne infections travelling too freely through the building. These systems need to be properly designed, installed and maintained, using a combination of:
Containment – Placing doors and walls at key points
Filtering – Use of filters at key air entry and egress points
Directional airflow control – Introducing differential pressure to prevent escape of pathogens from high risk areas
Ductwork hygiene – Preventing the build-up of dust which can harbour pathogens
Testing and maintenance – Ensuring correct functioning at regular intervals
As well as installing appropriate ventilation systems in and around areas where there is obvious risk (e.g. isolation rooms, operating theatres, pathology labs etc) it is important that attention is paid to how the systems in different areas could interact. This requires significant expertise and the ability to conduct diagnostic airflow measurements to check that movement of air is as expected.
Hospital Ventilation Services by Tecomak
At Tecomak Environmental Services we have decades of experience in providing effective airflow control in the most sensitive of environments, including healthcare and pharmaceutical facilities.
We are able to provide a complete range of specialist ventilation services for hospitals including inspection, testing and certification, regular maintenance (e.g. filter testing and replacement) and even decontamination in the event of a serious outbreak. We can also carry out airflow diagnostics and advise on the installation of new facilities.
Contact Tecomak Environmental Services today to see how we can help.