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Stethoscopes 'more contaminated' than doctor's hands

Dirty stethoscopes may be contributing to spread dangerous bugs around GP surgeries and hospital wards, according to a new study.

One stethoscope was found to be more contaminated with bacteria than the palm of a doctor's hand after being used to examine 71 patients.

Study finds dirty stethoscopes may be helping to spread dangerous bugs around GP surgeries and hospital wards Credit: Press Association

Among the microbes spreading from patients was the potentially deadly superbug MRSA.

The stethoscope's diaphragm, the part of the instrument that is pressed onto a patient's skin, was more heavily contaminated than all parts of the doctor's hand, except the fingertips.

The study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, also found the stethoscope's tube was covered in more bugs than the back of the doctor's hand.

Doctors 'see revalidation as an administrative burden'

The head of the medical website, which conducted the survey, has said that the results show that many doctors see revalidation as an "administrative burden".

GPs and hospital doctors seek to uphold the highest possible standards in care, and their willingness to be totally frank about variations in quality demonstrates how keen they are to see continual monitoring and improvement.

However, while revalidation should help to address such concerns, there is widespread scepticism about its effectiveness.

Many hard-pressed doctors view it as yet another administrative burden. They do not see it as a safety net for identifying any doctors who are not fit to practise or as a benchmark for ensuring that all patients receive the highest possible levels of care and treatment.

– Dr Tim Ringrose, chief executive,

What is 'revalidation' and how does it work?

Revalidation is the current system used to check that licenced doctors are fit for the job.

It requires doctors to demonstrate on a regular basis - usually every five years - that they are up-to-date through appraisals with their employer.

Members of the public can give feed-back in patient questionnaires, which are taken into account in these appraisals.

Revalidation started in December 2012 and the majority of licensed doctors are expected to be revalidated by March 2016.

Main findings of a survey of more than 5,600 doctors

Out of some 4,600 hospital doctors:

  • 53% disagreed that the current system of checks (known as revalidation) would help identify and deal with unfit doctors (22% agreed)
  • 86% agreed there are variations in care and that "there are certain doctors that I would not want to treat friends and family" (3% disagreed)
  • 38% said they did not agree that the benefits of revalidation would outweigh the admin time required for the process (18% agreed)

Out of some 1,000 GPs:

  • 60% disagreed that revalidation would work (16% agreed)
  • 67% agreed that there are certain doctors they would not want to treat friends and family (6% disagreed)
  • 63% did not agree that the benefits of revalidation would outweigh the extra admin (15% agreed)
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