[From Irish Times >>>] DOCTORS NEED to dress down rather than in fancy suits to avoid intimidating patients and to communicate properly with them. They also need to let patients see them wash their hands, Minister for Health James Reilly has said.

He also said a communication module should be part of every medical professional’s training and part of “continuing professional development”.

Speaking at the launch of the largest-ever survey of patients receiving in-patient hospital treatment, Dr Reilly expressed his disappointment at the figures for healthcare staff washing their hands and for communicating with patients.

The survey found that just under 60 per cent of patients said hospital staff always washed their hands before treating them. It also revealed that almost 40 per cent of patients surveyed felt staff did not encourage them to voice their opinion or ask questions about their treatment and 62 per cent were unaware that there was a hospital complaints procedure.

The survey found 8 per cent of patients had to wait more than a year for their treatment. However, the survey showed 96 per cent of patients felt they had been treated with dignity and respect and a similar proportion trusted the hospital staff in charge of their care.

More than 5,000 patients who received in-patient treatment in 25 public and voluntary hospitals answered the questionnaire.

“A strategy will have to be put in place to ensure that doctors do wash their hands,” Dr Reilly said. He will talk to the HSE about an initiative where “at least a half a day is spent every six months inculcating people in the need for hand hygiene and how they communicate with patients”.

He said the evidence showed it would be far better and patients would be less intimidated if “doctors didn’t wear suits into the clinical area, if they wore short-sleeved shirts and didn’t wear a tie, and obviously wash their hands in between patients”.

Dr Reilly said healthcare staff conveyed messages all the time. “Any time a patient sees a member of a healthcare team wash their hands prior to carrying out an examination on them, what’s communicated to them is professional care. Any time they don’t see that, the message that’s sent is one of sloppy, unsafe practice.”

Asked afterwards about concerns that patients still treated their doctors like gods, Dr Reilly said while a number of colleges had communication training, all doctors do not. This should be uniform throughout” colleges and part of continuing development “so that people are maintaining their skills in terms of how they communicate with patients”.

He warned that “if the communication isn’t clear, confusion ensues and where there’s confusion, there can be chaos and catastrophe”.

Dr Hilary Dunne, chief executive of the Irish Society for Quality and Safety in Healthcare, which conducted the survey, said the most important finding was that 95 per cent of patients felt they were treated with dignity and respect. “If you’re treated with dignity and respect while you’re in hospital you are 17 times more likely to be satisfied overall.”

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