Bed linen scare at Hong Kong hospitals shows need for all sectors to pitch in for a clean city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 August, 2015, 1:27am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 August, 2015, 1:27am

An investigation panel looking into the fungal infection of public hospital bed linen has identified lapses in almost every stage of the laundry process. The workshop was like a dusty and stuffy prison and the amount of fungus found in the samples was simply "frightening", according to a veteran microbiologist leading the probe. What's more puzzling is that Queen Mary Hospital, where six patients had been infected, never found any irregularities during its monthly inspection at the laundry site in the past.

The panel detected fungus at the washing, drying and ironing stages, as none of the processes were carried out at the required high temperatures. The bed sheets were packaged when they were still moist and warm, which could nurture fungus growth. Starch powder used in washing was stored next to rubbish bins. A review is under way to find out why the problems went unnoticed before.

The findings showed the Hospital Authority was right in having immediately suspended the laundry service used by 15 public hospitals and clinics. The authority should not hesitate to terminate the contracts if the supply of clean linen cannot be guaranteed. To help restore confidence in hospital hygiene and safety, more stringent checks should be introduced.

The supply of cleaning services and equipment is not just a problem for the public health sector. The same risk may arise in private hospitals, hotels, restaurants, airlines and other industries. It can be argued that the health risk for customers in the hotels and catering businesses is much lower than that for hospital patients. But given the large number of people served in these industries, safety cannot be taken for granted.

The government's "Keep Clean 2015" campaign has rightly put community hygiene on the public agenda, with top officials sweeping back alleys in front of cameras.

While the publicity may help raise public awareness, a clean city can only be maintained by concerted and sustainable efforts from individuals, businesses and the government.