Galway hospital patients at risk from bird droppings

Hiqa report finds ‘suboptimal’ cleanliness in many wards at Portiuncula

The presence of large amounts of bird droppings at a Co Galway hospital could pose an infection risk to patients, the State’s health watchdog has warned.

The Health Information and Quality Authority told Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe to take urgent action to address pest control issues after inspectors found large amounts of "bird excreta" on the exterior of windows and on sills in one ward.

The problem was one of a number of issues which prompted the watchdog to warn Portiuncula last March of serious risks to the health and safety of patients in the hospital.

The hospital was ordered to take immediate action to deal with the issues, which included “suboptimal” cleanliness in many wards, a failure to deal with environmental issues, a lack of space in the cancer unit and the absence of isolation facilities.


The authority said the hospital acted to address the immediate high risks identified but a further inspection in April found improvement were still required in relation to environmental hygiene, maintenance and infrastructure development.

To deal with the bird problem, Portiuncula has installed ultrasonic hawk repellent, bright lights and netting.

Inspectors found the hospital continue to have a regular but small number of unrelated cases of the C. difficile superbug. Dealing with this issue is made more difficult by the insufficient isolation facilities available.

On revisiting St Joseph’s Ward during the March inspection, an open window on the main corridor alerted inspectors to a large amount of bird excreta present on the exterior of several window panes and some sills of windows on one side of the ward.

The extent of the problem indicated that there was a pest control issue which needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The Authority was informed that this was an ongoing issue. Accumulation of bird excreta has the potential to increase the risk of transmission of infectious agents to vulnerable patients. Hospitals are responsible for ensuring that there is a pest control programme or service that is responsible for the cleaning and disinfecting areas contaminated by pests in addition to pest control.

This issue was highlighted to the ward manager and the hospital management at the close out meeting for mitigation.

In response to this finding, the hospital has instigated a sanitising programme to clean the exterior of the hospital and plans to introduce a variety of measures to prevent and control the access of birds to the building. Such measures include hawk ultrasound, high illumination and netting.

A separate report by Hiqa on Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital in Finglas found significant opportunities for improvement in the cleanliness of the environment and maintenance in theatre and on a rehab ward. Inspectors noted a lack of understanding by some staff in relation to hand hygiene.

A report on St Colmcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown found some potential for improvement in maintenance and cleanliness. It expressed some concern about the surveillance of resistant bacteria and the level of corporate knowledge about managing legionella control.

Naas General Hospital was found in a report to be generally clean, as the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times