We are more aware of infection control than ever before. Covid, flu, mpox, though below their peak, are still around and we can’t get complacent. Here are some top tips for infection control in your building
People visiting medical facilities, whether it be the hospital, GP or another location, are likely already ill or injured and therefore are more susceptible to infection. For this reason, it is important that healthcare facilities meet the highest standards of cleanliness and infection control. Infections can increase the amount of time it takes for a patient to recover, or worse, and therefore increases pressure on the NHS.
Of course, regulations are in place on the prevention and control of infection. The Care Quality Commission states that all providers of healthcare and adult social care should meet or exceed the Code of Practice on the prevention and control of infections and related guidance.
The Code states: “Good infection prevention (including cleanliness) is essential to ensure that people who use health and social care services receive safe and effective care. Effective prevention and control of infection must be part of everyday practice and be applied consistently by everyone.
“Good management and organisational processes are crucial to make sure that high standards of infection prevention (including cleanliness) are developed and maintained”.
First and foremost, all providers of healthcare should have an effective Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) policy, which is relevant to the location/specialism etc. The IPC policy should be regularly updated and available to all staff.
Cleaning contractors should have a general cleaning schedule, which includes the frequency of cleaning specific areas, fixtures and fittings. Of particular note here are items that are touched frequently, such as keyboards, telephones, door handles and light switches.
The policy should also include the use of, training in and disposal of PPE. The government recently announced an extension to the free provision of PPE for all health and social care workers for COVID-19 infection control. The scheme has been extended until 31 March 2024 or until the stocks for COVID-19 supply are depleted (whichever is sooner).
What can staff do?
Disposal of clinical waste is an important area to consider. Bins should be easily accessible to staff and operated with a foot pedal. Waste should be assessed and separated properly. Medicine waste should also be stored in a designated bin and collected by an appropriate waste contractor and staff need to know which medicines to dispose of in each bin.
Hand washing is highly important. Handwashing facilities must be available for all staff to adequately wash their hands in hot water using the correct technique. Liquid soap, paper towels and alcohol gel should be available.
It is important that staff are properly trained on infection control, this includes handwashing technique, use of disposable aprons and gloves, and recognising signs of infection.
It is important for visitors to also contribute to infection prevention. Healthcare staff and cleaning teams can do everything right, but remember that visitors can bring in infection too and they are unlikely to know as much about it as those working in the environment. Educating visitors is very important and can help protect your patients and reduce infection in your area.
Clear signage should be displayed reminding people to wash their hands or use alcohol gel. In high-risk areas, for example, those visiting vulnerable patients, verbal instruction can be used to ensure every precaution is taken to reduce spread of infection. People may not be admitted to a high-risk area if they do not take infection control measures.
Hand washing facilities and alcohol gel should be provided for visitors, whether patients coming in for an outpatient or other appointment or relatives visiting someone on a ward. Everyone in a healthcare facility (staff, patients and visitors) should wash their hands when they are visibly dirty, after using the toilet, after sneezing, after contact with body fluid, before and after handling food and when visiting patients with diarrhoea.
Masks can also be provided and encouraged for visitors to reduce the spread of air-borne infections.
Patients in hospital can also be encouraged to remind their visitors to help prevent infection, for example, asking people not to visit if they are unwell, asking them not to sit on the bed and trying not to have too many visitors.
When inviting patients for outpatient appointments, include details of your infection control measures. For example, you can remind people not to attend the appointment if they are showing signs of sickness that are not related to the reason they are attending. Relatives should not visit if they are ill – particularly if they are showing signs of diarrhoea and vomiting or flu.
Patients, visitors and staff can also make a report if they notice an area that is dirty.
Everyone is responsible for infection control in healthcare facilities to reduce the risk to patients and reduce pressure on the NHS. Therefore it is important that everyone has the education, training and means to be able to effectively act on infection prevention and control and ensure effective measures are taken and are in place.