This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.

Importance of hand-washing

Over the past few months I have been promoting a new campaign to highlight the importance of handwashing both here in the UK and across the globe.

Although its importance is often severely underestimated, hand washing has been described as the single most cost effective method of prevention that anyone can take against the spread of many infections and diseases.

However despite this, figures published in the British Medical Journal revealed that, amongst the public, only around a third of men, and half of women wash their hands after using the toilet. It is for this reason that I have launched my own campaign to highlight the importance of effective handwashing and the difference it would make.

The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap has been pushing for some time for a greater focus on handwashing as a way to combat the spread of a range of diseases and infections. It is claimed that effective handwashing with soap would reduce diarrhoea incidence by 47% and save at least one million lives worldwide. On a more local level, it has recently been revealed that hand washing could have reduced the spread of E coli during the recent outbreaks in Scotland.

Earlier this year I launched a motion in parliament on this issue that has attracted broad cross-party support. I am in no doubt if we can increase the use of effective handwashing we will save lives at home and abroad.

Below are several links, including recent news releases on this topic, newspaper articles, details of the Early Day Motion in parliament, and website links providing interesting statistics and information on the importance of hand washing.

Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing

Figures published in the British Medical Journal

Article on hand washing

 

Early Day Motion: HANDWASHING WITH SOAP

17 May 2006

Barrett, John

That this House commends the good work done by the Global Partnership for Handwashing with Soap; notes that handwashing is the single most cost effective method to reduce the spread of infections and diseases; is concerned by figures from the British Medical Journal which show that only 34 per cent. of men and 58 per cent. of women wash their hands after using the toilet; notes that effective handwashing would have reduced the spread of E coli following the recent outbreak in Scotland; and calls on the Government to back a new awareness campaign and to work with soap producers and health experts to raise the awareness of the importance of handwashing with soap in the UK.

 

Press Coverage on Handwashing

Edinburgh Evening News

“Now Wash Your Hands” used to appear on signs in public toilets and many places where hygiene was all-important. You rarely see these signs anymore. Is it because we all listened to what we were taught as children? Apparently not.

We now live in a world where technological advances in healthcare and medicine have dramatically improved our health and quality of life. However, despite these huge leaps forward, we cannot afford to forget the simple old-fashioned hygiene habits that are so important and can make such a difference.

As I child I remember being continually reminded of the importance of washing my hands properly before meals and after using the bathroom. However, it appears that for many people, the message has too often failed to get through. Now, in an age when there is no longer any taboo about discussing HIV/Aids and other health issues, why is it that few people feel they can raise the issue of hand washing.

Figures published in the British Medical Journal have revealed that, amongst the British public, only around a third of men, and half of women wash their hands after using the toilet. Something to think about next time you shake hands or pick up peanuts from a bowl in the pub.

It may seem like a trivial matter to raise, however the difference that effective hand washing would make at home and abroad, is enormous.

Medical experts have described hand washing as the single most cost effective prevention that anyone can take against the spread of many infections and diseases. However it is often forgotten, ignored, misunderstood or practiced badly.

I have seen it first hand the importance of hand washing at home and abroad. When I was visiting the intensive care unit for newborn babies at the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary I was struck by the strict but very effective way in which every single visitor was made to wash their hands thoroughly before entering the ward. The nurses there explained to me how vital this was in preventing the spread of any number of diseases. I was amazed when I witnessed someone objecting to this, even though they were going into a ward where tiny babies were lying in incubators. It was made clear that hygiene was all-important and if visitors did not comply, there would be no visit.

When I was in the Sudan, visiting refugee camps in Darfur, speaking to nurses there, they told me that the number one killer was not Aids, TB, or Malaria, but diarrhoea, which could be prevented in many cases, by hand washing at the appropriate time. This is true in many of the poorest countries of the world, but they often lack the one basic ingredient that we all have access to, a supply of clean water. Why then do we not do it? The answer is that there is no excuse.

In recent months we have heard how hand washing could have reduced the spread of E coli during the outbreaks in Scotland. I am in no doubt if we can increase the use of effective hand washing we will save lives at home and abroad. Anyone who is any doubt as to the seriousness of this issue should think about how often we are handling food, using the bathroom, and changing the baby, handling pets, emptying the rubbish and other daily tasks that all leave germs on our hand.

Despite this, there seems to be an unhelpful level of taboo surrounding this subject. However, we cannot afford to ignore this issue and its importance simply because it may offend our sensibilities.

Medical Experts have been calling on the government to invest in health information campaigns to direct people’s attention to the potentially lifesaving practice of hand washing. Where previous public awareness campaigns have taken place reported rates of hand washing have increased dramatically and infection rates have reduced. When I have mentioned the subject, people have then reported back to me how quickly they are now using up their soap!

In the last six months I have been running my own campaign to raise the awareness of this issue in Westminster and across Scotland and I am glad to say signs are currently being designed and will be installed in the Houses of Parliament in the near future. Prevention is always better than the cure.

It may be that people will always have an excuse, that the drier was not working, there were no paper towels or that they will do it later. Or is it just that people are too lazy to bother? We all expect the highest standards of hygiene to be in place when food is prepared and then stored, before we buy it in the shops or at a restaurant. We should also rightly expect all toilets to have clean facilities, soap and driers. We must all play our part and should remember what we were told when we were young, “Now Wash Your Hands”.

This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.