It is impossible to verify how many lives have been saved as a result of its implementation, but it is probably safe to assume that that the figure runs into hundreds of thousands.
He was born the son of Winifred and Arthur in the small village of Hambrook in Gloucestershire in 1926 and between the age of 11 and 18 was educated at Queen Elizabeth's Hospital School. an independent school for boys in Clifton, Bristol. Founded in 1586 it was situated in the centre of town with a Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1590 when it was specifically charged with 'the education of poor children and orphans.
After leaving school he joined the Royal Navy in 1945 and did a three year stint serving as a sick berth attendant and medical lab technician. It was his first taste of the world of medicine and was probably on board ship that his interest in the spread and prevention of infection was first ignited.
"Superbugs have long been a cause of hospital infection. Hospital gangrene, pyaemia and erysipelas caused by haemolytic streptococci and Staph. aureus were responsible for many hospital outbreaks in the nineteenth century and had a high mortality. When penicillin came along we thought this was the end of staphylococcus as an important cause of hospital infection, but resistant strains soon appeared and Mary Barber described them at the Hammersmith Hospital, London, in the 1940s."
"In about 1957 Mary Barber was perhaps the first person in the country to introduce an antibiotic policy for most of the hospital. In this policy she reduced, or tried to eliminate, the use of penicillin apart from a few conditions such as endocarditis, to reduce the use of antibiotics as much as possible, and to give all antibiotics in combination. This was actually followed by a reduction in the numbers of penicillin-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus isolated. She mainly used erythromycin and novobiocin as a combination therapy, and resistance didn’t emerge for a while, but gradually, over the years, it did. When methicillin appeared this policy was no longer needed. But she still had a written policy which she enforced with a hand of
Between the ages of 38 and 54 he worked as Consultant Microbiologist at the Hospital Infection Research Laboratory (HIRL) at the City Hospital, Birmingham in the team led by the extraordinary pathologist, clinician and poet, Professor Edward Lowbury. It was funded by the Medical Research Council and Regional Health Authority. He recalled that Lowbury "was working on burns patients in Birmingham. He found in the 1950s that resistance emerged rapidly to tetracycline, erythromycin and ovobiocin and there was really little else left at that time for treating staphylococcal infections. The use of combinations only delayed the onset of resistance."
Working with Babb and Quoraishi, pronounced as a 'C', he developed the six step hand-washing technique, known as the 'Ayliffe Technique' which was soon adopted by hospitals throughout Britain. He said that it evolved when it became evident that parts of the hands were being missed, particularly the thumbs and fingernails. One of his students had long thumbs and it was proving difficult to clean effectively, which is why the Technique included the action to rub the thumbs separately. With self-deprecating modesty, Graham said it just happened his name began with 'A' and that he was just one of three practitioners, 'A', 'B' and 'C', who invented the technique.
In 1980 he became a founder member of the 'Hospital Infection Society', now 'Healthcare Infection Society' and chaired its Committee and edited its journal for its first four years and served as its President for six years until 1994.
In 2004, Graham, a past winner of the Men's Epee at Birmingham Fencing Club, celebrated over 100 years of the Club and 70 years of the Tournament with the publication of a book detailing the history.
At the age of 87, he had the pleasure of seeing the 'Graham Ayliffe Training Fellowship' established in 2013. Its purpose is to enable trainees currently working in the field of infection prevention and control to take a one year paid leave of absence to pursue their specialist area by broadening their knowledge base and imparting that knowledge to the wider scientific community.
In life, wittingly or unwittingly, Graham had lived up to the motto of his old school, Queen Elizabeth's Hospital :
'dum tempus habemus operemur bonum'
'Whilst we have time, let us do good.'