Bright red hand gel dispensers at the main entrances to St Richard’s Hospital will no longer contain the high-alcohol cleanser - over fears it could be drunk.
The distinctive boxes have become a familiar sight for visitors who were encouraged to disinfect their hands on entering the hospital.
However health bosses have been forced to ditch their 70 percent alcohol contents, after stories of people drinking the hand sanitiser across the UK.
Cathy Stone, director of nursing for the Western Sussex Hospitals Trust which runs St Richard’s as well as Worthing and Southlands Hospitals, said there was evidence showing it is far more important to clean your hands immediately before contact with a patient.
“There has been an awful lot of press discussion about the effectiveness of gels. We do know that hand gels are not effective against [tummy bug] C. diff, so we make sure we have appropriate hand-washing facilities.
“The key point is that staff disinfect their hands the right way before they contact a patient,” she told a meeting of the trust’s board in Chichester last Thursday morning.
She stressed that it was no longer vital for staff and patients to clean their hands immediately upon entering a hospital, saying it was whether it happened at or near the patient’s bedside that counts.
“What I wouldn’t want is gelling on the way in the door and not gelling when they go to a patient,” she added.
The trust was forced to carry out a full check of its hand gel dispensers after national concerns over members of the public ‘misusing’ the cleaning gel.
“There have been reports of people drinking the gel for the alcohol,” said Ms Stone. “We have undertaken a full risk assessment on St Richard’s and Worthing, talking to infection control and stakeholders.
“The key point of hand disinfecting is that point of contact.”
She insisted the empty gel boxes would remain at the entrances to the trust’s hospitals as a visual reminder to both staff and visitors, but other non-essential dispensers further inside would be removed. However dispensers - complete with disinfectant gel - will remain in place at some outpatient clinics.
“To reinforce that message to the public is very important, so they are still there. But there are some places around the hospital where they could be stolen or young children could drink them, so the decision has been taken to say, ‘Yes, come in and your next gel station will be at the point of contact’.
“That is what is best for patients, public and staff.”
A survey of staff at the end of 2011 on the availability of hand washing materials at the trust showed an improvement on the previous year, with 71 percent of staff saying they felt those materials were always available to staff, compared with 65 percent last year. And 67 percent felt they were always available to visitors, compared with 61 percent in 2010.