Chris Wakefield, Managing Director UK & Ireland, GOJO Industries-Europe Ltd. discusses hand hygiene considerations that can help care settings achieve a healthier germ season.
Each winter, infection rates rise as millions of people contract influenza (‘flu’), norovirus, and other common colds and viruses. It is always a particularly challenging time for the care industry and, this year is no different. According to Dr Marc-Alain Widdowson, who leads World Health Organization’s (WHO) High-threat Pathogen team, with COVID-19, flu, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) likely to be co-circulating, this ‘would increase the risk to vulnerable populations and put further pressure on health services.’[i]
When you consider how easily these seasonal viruses can spread, it’s clear that healthcare and long-term care settings, which support vulnerable patients, must have robust infection prevention measures in place to protect everyone who works or resides there.
Last year’s influenza programme prevented around 25,000 hospitalisations in England[ii], so staff and residents should be encouraged to take up their vaccines. In addition to widespread vaccinations, good hand hygiene practice is crucial to break the chain of infection.
However, extra attention to their specific needs of care should be taken to prevent absenteeism, or worse, presenteeism, which puts residents, patients, and co-workers at increased risk. To ensure maximum compliance, a combination approach is required, including effective formulations and easy access to dispensers.
The right formulation
Did you know that one of the most common barriers to good hand hygiene technique amongst healthcare professionals is skin irritation? In fact, data from the National Health Service (NHS) in England on long-term sickness rates, shows skin issues account for just over 12,000 days of sick leave per month (1 percent)[iii]. Another skin health survey by The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), found that 93 percent of clinicians have had at least one skin issue in the last 12 months too.[iv]
Although there are no official figures available, it is highly likely that such statistics are mirrored in the care sector, where workers also need to don PPE and clean their hands repeatedly during their shifts.
When you combine this with the fragile skin of elderly residents, it is clear that whilst they must have effective germ-killing power, formulations should also be gentle.
Opt for formulations that not only conform to EN 1500, EN 14476 and EN 12791 standards, but are proven to maintain skin health too. Look for products that have been enriched with moisturising agents to keep it healthy, soft, and supple. A quick contact time is a bonus too, since many people do not spend very long washing or sanitising hands.
Close at hand
Ensure facilities for hand washing and sanitising are readily available and that dispensers are simple to use. Touch-free dispensers make a particularly good choice for care settings because they are easier for the elderly and infirm to operate.
Dispensers should be positioned at the point of care, so that staff have the opportunity to clean their hands at their fingertips. Moments for staff to practise hand hygiene include: before resident contact, before a clean/aseptic procedure, after exposure to body fluids, after resident contact, and after contact with resident surroundings.
Additionally, placing further hand sanitising stations at the main entry/exit points to the building, as well as in eating areas and by the washroom doors is also a good idea to prevent the spread of germs.
Wiping away danger
As well as ensuring ample and effective opportunities to practise hand hygiene, care homes should pay particular attention to sanitising surfaces to help stop the spread of infections from one area or building to another. This is especially important in food preparation areas and at high contact touch points, such as door handles, lift buttons, or telephones.
By tailoring measures to the specific needs of care settings – choosing effective solutions that actively care for skin, strategically positioning dispensers that are easy to use, and sanitising high touchpoints – hand hygiene compliance will increase. This, in turn, lessens the impact of seasonal viruses, lowering the risk of germs being transferred and causing illness among residents and staff.