Rock star Mike Peters is to lead an Olympic-style baton tour around North Wales, as part of a Hand Hygiene crusade to help prevent the spread of life-threatening infections.
The Alarm front-man is among a team of NHS patients and staff who will carry the Hand Hygiene baton around the region, championing the message: ‘Clean hands save lives’.
Mike, 57, from Prestatyn in Denbighshire, is battling leukaemia and so has learned first-hand the importance of hand washing when it comes to staying infection-free.
The Hand Hygiene baton will tour North Wales during nine days of events organised by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, including visits to Glan Glwyd hospital at Bodelwyddan, the Wrexham Maelor Hospital and Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor.
Mike will take the baton on a tour of wards at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and speak to patients about the importance of hand hygiene, from 9.30am on Friday July 1.
Four symbolic Hand Hygiene batons are being passed around communities across the UK this summer, in a campaign organised by the Infection Prevention Society (IPS), and delivered in North Wales by the BCUHB Infection Prevention team.
The tour was launched in Scotland on May 5 to co-incide with the World Health Organisation’s World Hand Hygiene Day, and will finish on September 26 in Yorkshire.
It will be in the Wrexham area on June 27 and 28, Bodelwyddan area on June 29 and 30, and July 1 and Ysbyty Gwynedd from July 3 to 5. Full details of the tour will be revealed at a later date.
The idea is to spread the message, not the bugs, says the Infection Prevention team at BCUHB.
Mike hopes his visit to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd on July 1 will help catapult the important message that ‘Clean Hands Save Lives’ into the national spotlight.
During a glittering career Mike, 57, has shared the stage with A-listers Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Bono and Neil Young, while The Alarm has achieved 15 UK top 40 hits and sold more than five million records worldwide.
Despite his illness he continues to tour, both at home and overseas, spurred on by the passionate support of his army of fans.
The married dad of two who lives with wife and manager, Jules, and their two sons, Dylan, 12 and Evan, nine, near Dyserth, Denbighshire, knows from personal experience how important hand hygiene is, particularly for those with low immunity levels, the very young, frail and elderly.
He is a staunch supporter of Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Ysbyty Gwynedd, without which he says he would not be alive today.
Mike was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1995. Chemotherapy treatment forced it into remission, but the cancer came back in 2005 in the form of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.
Further treatment kept the disease at bay until last year when it recurred. In a crushing blow for him and his family Mike was told he had developed a resistance to the life-saving drugs he was on and doctors had to urgently change his treatment regime.
He is now on a trial drug to which his body is so far responding positively. He has regular treatment and check ups at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor.
Mike says after years of suffering from cancer and going through times when his strength and immunity levels were dangerously low, he knows how easy it is for a commonplace infection to develop into something more serious and potentially lethal.
He said: “I had absolutely no hesitation when asked to support the infection prevention campaign because I know first hand how effective it is when it comes to saving lives.
“Simple preventative measures like washing your hands regularly can make a huge difference, stemming the spread of bacteria and viruses and so protecting the vulnerable.”
Tracey Cooper, the Assistant Director of Nursing in charge of infection prevention at BCUHB, will hand the baton to Mike before he takes it on tour around Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
She said: “It’s the year of the Rio Olympic Games and we’re all up for a challenge, but we’ve set ourselves a very specific goal here in North Wales – we want to stop potentially fatal infections from getting out of the starting blocks.
“We’re over the moon Mike has agreed to be an ambassador for us.”
Infection Prevention Nurse, Kathryn Chapple, who has organised a week long hand hygiene events programme for BCUHB, added: “Mike’s visit will be a highlight of our campaign.
“He has a large fan base here, among staff as well as patients. He will tour the various departments and visit wards.”
Experts estimate that eight out of 10 infections are spread by touch.
Nurse Kathryn Chapple said: “That’s why washing your hands properly is one of the most important things you can do to help prevent and control the spread of many illnesses.
An efficient hand hygiene routine can significantly reduce the risk of contracting colds, flu, food poisoning and stop healthcare associated infections being passed from person to person. We recommend people wash their hands frequently, not just after going to the toilet, or before meals, but regularly throughout the day.”
The message was firmly reiterated by Mike’s wife Jules who admits to having become a ‘hygiene obsessive’.
She said: “I don’t want to sound paranoid of anything, but as a carer I know how bad it can get.
“When Mike was first diagnosed I was terrified of people coming near him or even visiting him in hospital because of the risk that they could spread on infection.
“He has so many adoring fans and has always made himself so accessible to them. I urged him to start doing ‘fist bumps’ instead of handshakes to minimise the risk.
“We all pick up invisible bacteria during the course of the day, just by touching things around us – hand rails or door knobs, for instance – and these bacteria are easily passed from person to person.
“If you are in full health you may have the ability to fight off colds and other viruses picked up in this way, but if you are vulnerable in the first place they can become life-threatening.
“Passing on an infection is so easily done just by shaking hands with or hugging someone when you have not washed your hands.
“But it is also easily prevented by one simple measure – hand washing. If there is not a washroom nearby then carry an anti-viral cleanser. I am always telling Mike and the boys to carry anti-bacterial hand gel round with them and to use it regularly.”
Jules’s determination to support the hand hygiene campaign is strengthened by her experience of having spent a traumatic month in isolation in hospital after picking up a virus while on a fund-raising climb up Mount Kilimanjaro.
It was in aid of world leading rock and roll charity the Love, Hope, Strength Foundation which Mike co-founded following his cancer diagnosis.
The foundation promotes music related, outreach and awareness programmes for leukaemia and cancer sufferers, survivors and their families. It builds cancer centres, funds medical equipment and supplies, raises awareness about cancer and campaigns for more potential donors to sign up to the organ and bone marrow registers.
It has seen Mike perform at famous summits around the world, from Mount Snowdon, on his home turf, to the top of New York’s Empire State Building, the world’s highest rock concert on Mount Everest, a dawn concert at Mount Fuji, Japan, and the ‘roof of Africa trek’ to Mount Kilimanjaro.
It was following that trip when Jules suffered a blood clot which caused her leg to swell up, coupled with a mystery virus which nearly killed her and resulted in her having emergency treatment in Liverpool’s Tropical Disease Centre isolation unit.
She said: “It was a very frightening time, during which I had to be quarantined from everyone including Mike and the boys, all my family, and friends, for a month.
“I put myself in the hands of the doctors and followed their advice to the letter because I knew that was the best thing I could do.
“I was very lucky to come out of it alive and one thing it has taught me is how easy it is for what seems like a small insignificant infection to escalate out of control.
“That’s why the Hand Hygiene campaign is so important to us as a family, because it can make such a massive difference. It is amazing to think that such a simple task can have such a huge impact, but all the evidence is clear, washing our hands regularly really does save lives.”
The Hand Hygiene tour is the largest campaign of its kind held by the Infection Prevention Society and coincides with the 2016 World Health Organisation Clean Your Hands offensive, leading up to an infection prevention conference in Harrogate this September.
You can follow the Hand Hygiene tour on Facebook and Twitter by searching @BCUbeatthebugs or #IPSTorchTour16