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NUH team saves patients from superbug

(From left) National Medical Excellence Award winners Fong Kok Yong, Yeoh Khay Guan, Quek Swee Chye, Raymond Lin, Lisa Ang, Dale Fisher, Koo Wen Hsin, Shirley Ooi, Terrance Chua and Quah Thuan Chong
The Straits Times - July 25, 2013
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NUH team saves patients from superbug

SIX YEARS ago, one in 10 patients at National University Hospital (NUH) would pick up a common superbug, which could hamper their recovery and sometimes be fatal.

Now, that number is one in 40.

Thanks to the work by associate professors Dale Fisher and Raymond Lin, Ms Catherine Teo and Ms Lisa Ang, who were yesterday recognised with the National Clinical Excellence Team Award.

Seven other awards were given at last night's National Medical Excellence Award ceremony at the Goodwood Park Hotel, where public sector health-care professionals who made significant contributions to patient care, either through their work, research or as teachers, were recognised.

Each award, which was presented by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, came with a trophy, a citation and $10,000.

There was even a second-time winner. Emergency medicine specialist Shirley Ooi of the National University Health System won the Outstanding Clinician Educator award for, among other things, her Guide To The Essentials In Emergency Medicine which has sold more than 13,000 copies worldwide. In 2011, she was part of the NUH team which was recognised for cutting the time it took to treat a patient with a heart attack.

Mr Gan also highlighted the continuing need for research, such as the work done by NUH associate professor Yeoh Khay Guan into the early detection of gastric cancer, which clinched him the Clinician Scientist Award.

The minister said such research can generate "medical breakthroughs for better health and economic outcomes".

The impact of the work done by the team fighting the superbug has already produced a measurable outcome - saving 20 lives a year that would otherwise have been lost not to the illness they went to hospital for, but an illness picked up there.

The methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) superbug often spreads through touch when doctors, nurses, visitors and patients do not wash their hands after coming into contact with an infected person. It can also spread through surfaces such as door handles or unclean beds.

In some carriers, the bug remains dormant. But other patients may suffer various symptoms, from a mild boil on the skin to severe blood poisoning, which can be fatal.

So the team, which started work in 2007, set about improving hand hygiene.

Through posters, comic strips and videos, it managed to change practices. Hand washing before and after treating patients became more stringent.

The hospital also started checking all new patients to find out if they carried MRSA. Those with the bug were put in the same ward. This allowed other wards to remain MRSA free.

Said Prof Fisher: "Swabbing patients, grouping those with positive swabs and stopping staff to ask them to wash their hands, all 'interfere' with our work but has brought about the change in our infection rates."

NUH's success has been published in medical journals and shared at both local and international conferences.

Said Mr Gan: "This team has successfully bridged the gap between knowledge and clinical practice to improve the outcomes, standards, safety and quality of patient care."

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