Surfaceskins device
Image shows a Surfaceskins device attached to a door.Surfaceskins

A new self-disinfecting device has been developed by scientists in order to combat dangerous hospital-acquired infections.

According to the National Institute for Care and Excellence, 300,000 people contract hospital-acquired infections every year in England, putting the health of patients at risk and costing the NHS around £1bn.

Independent tests of the specially-engineered device concluded that it can reduce bacteria levels by more than 90% and was effective in reducing the levels of three types which commonly cause hospital-acquired infections – S. aureus, E. coli and E. faecalis. The results of the tests are published in the Journal of Hospital Infection.

The material has been designed to be used on hospital doors instead of the usual aluminium plates which people push against to open them.

Hospital doors can be unhygienic because of the number of people that touch them in between cleaning. It only takes one dirty hand to put other people at risk of contamination.

The devices – known as Surfaceskins – have been created by a spin off company from the University of Leeds after seven years of research and development.

Surfaceskins are door pads incorporating three non-woven textiles which release a small amount of disinfecting alcohol gel when pushed. They are designed to be replaced after seven days or one thousand pushes, whichever comes sooner.

Surfaceskins are intended to act as an extra line of defence in hospitals, complementing strict handwashing rules.

"Our results suggest that Surfaceskins door pads can help to reduce the contamination of doors by microbes," said Mark Wilcox, Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of Leeds, who led the study. "They offer a new way to reduce the risk of the spread of bacteria and viruses in hospital environments and other settings where frequent contact with doors could undermine hand hygiene."

Chris Fowler, Chief Executive of the company that develops the device said: "Surfaceskins address a definite need, in a simple, effective and low-cost way. In addition to the successful NHS trials, many organisations outside healthcare have expressed serious interest in introducing these self-disinfecting products. Surfaceskins can play an important role wherever door users have an interest in maintaining clean hands."

The pads could be useful in the catering and hospitality industries, but also places like cruise ships where the spread of bacteria can lead to outbreaks of sickness.