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The number of Dunedin Hospital doctors washing their hands leapt by 20% in the latest "hand hygiene audit".
The compliance rate for Dunedin doctors was 60% in the October audit, compared with just 40% in the previous check, carried out in the middle of the year.
For all staff, compliance was 63%, an increase of about 10% on the previous audit.
The result is closer to the national target of 70% compliance, and placed the Southern District Health Board 10th of the 20 district health boards.
There is no hand-washing audit at Southland Hospital.
Hand washing can be performed with water, or by applying an anti-microbial agent.
Infection control clinical leader Dr Jill Wolfgang said the October audit was a significant improvement.
"Although still below the national target of 70% compliance with the five moments [when workers must wash their hands], it is a notable increase ...
"Physicians, in particular, have shown an improvement, which is pleasing."
Changing the institutional culture around hand-washing was a gradual process, Dr Wolfgang said through a spokeswoman.
Hand washing is being promoted in the health sector by the Health Quality and Safety Commission to reduce hospital-acquired infections.
In October, the top-performing board reported 77% compliance, and the lowest 43.4%. The boards are not identified.
In August, board member Richard Thomson branded the national target "really grot", as it sent the wrong message to health workers.