Big grant for big clean

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Academic’s interest in infectious diseases raises research profile

Brenton Stacey
Public relations officer
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

A project on which an Avondale academic is a chief investigator has received a $650,000 grant to find the most effective way to clean hospitals.

Brett Mitchell

Brett Mitchell’s “prolific” publication record and his role with the REACH project enhances his status as one of Avondale’s top researchers. Credit: Brenton Stacey.

Dr Brett Mitchell is one of 10 chief investigators implementing and evaluating the effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of targeted environmental cleaning practices in 20 Australian hospitals. The three-year study aims to reduce healthcare associated infections.

Despite the role cleaning plays in patient care, little evidence informs its practice. “Cleaning practices in hospitals vary,” says Brett, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Nursing and Health. “There’s no gold standard.” Yet.

The project, called REACH (Researching Effective Approaches to Cleaning in Hospitals), will make recommendations about standardising cleaning practices and products. These will be timely.

Other research co-authored by Brett and published in the Medical Journal of Australia last month (March) shows a significant increase in hospital-identified Clostridium difficile infections. Patients with this infection suffer severe diarrhoea but also shed spores into the environment. The spores—thick-walled “seeds” shed by the bacteria—can remain on hospital surfaces for months after a patient has been discharged. They are also resistant to alcohol-based hand hygiene products and common detergents and some disinfectants.

“I’ve gone into research to make a difference to patients and to the care they receive,” says Brett. “That’s why this project’s important—it will directly effect practice in hospitals.”

REACH is led by Professor Nicholas Graves from Queensland University of Technology. Funding for it comes from the National Health and Medical Research Council as part of its Partnership Project for Better Health. Securing a grant from the council, the preeminent funding body for medical research in Australia, is highly competitive.

Avondale is seeking approval to apply in its own right to the council for grants, “which will put us on the same footing as other universities in Australia,” says vice-president (research) Professor Tony Williams. The college of higher education’s status as a partner of a successful applicant will, adds Tony, “strongly enhance our profile and potential success at earning this right.”