AMBULANCES could be helping spread superbugs in the NHS because of time and money pressures, it has been claimed.
Health union Unison said the Government's failure to tackle ambulance hygiene was a major flaw in its infection control policy. Targets, time and money pressures combined to create a "lethal cocktail" that could allow superbugs like MRSA to thrive in ambulances.
Unison said because ambulances transported patients across the NHS, there was a danger the vehicles designed to save lives could be contributing to ending them.
Its investigation into cleanliness procedures nationwide found many ambulance workers were worried about infection risks posed by their vehicles.
Some crews are still responsible for cleaning their own ambulances and with time pressures it means some do not have time to do what is called deep cleaning.
But an innovative Huddersfield firm could hold the key with a cost and time-effective way of cleaning emergency vehicles.
Longwood-based emergency equipment specialists The Aire Group has teamed up with Brighouse ambulance makers UV Modular, Cleckheaton-based Ferno UK and US corporation Steris, to create the system.
It does away with traditional disinfectants and instead uses vaporised hydrogen peroxide (VHP) to sterilise the vehicles, killing micro-organisms including MRSA.
The system is already used in pharmaceuticals, food production and to sterilise medical equipment in hospitals.
VHP is a dry vapour which is odourless and non-corrosive - but needs to be used in a controlled environment.
The Aire Group has devised a special Aireshelta inflatable building which is large enough to take several vehicles and keep the VHP contained.
Aire Group chief executive Richard Bailey said if all ambulances were cleansed of micro-organisms, it would dramatically reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
"It is what the world has been waiting for," he said. "Cleansing within the health service is only the start of this product's potential."
Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said effective infection control needed to go further than the hospital steps.
"It's clear that ambulances are potentially the weakest link in the fight against MRSA and other superbugs and we need national standards to be applied more rigorously and staff trained in effective procedures to close this loophole," she said.
She suggested ambulance trusts should employ in-house cleaning teams.