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Have a care with your hygiene strategy

23 August 2018

Health and safety, negative public image and staff absences are all at higher risk when care homes miss the fundamentals of correct infection prevention. Steve Nurdin, marketing manager at Cannon Hygiene, discusses why hygiene processes should be considered business critical

Bugs like norovirus usually cause a minor inconvenience to most people, however, they can cause serious health problems for vulnerable care home residents. Outbreaks can also have a lasting impact on customer perceptions and illness can leave care homes incredibly short staffed. It’s hugely detrimental to business performance. Yet, while many do the basics, having a best-practice hygiene strategy is not always front of mind.

Norovirus crisis ahead?

We’re about to enter one of the most important periods for care home hygiene. A spike in viruses such as coughs, colds and flus is expected every winter but we very well could be facing increased pressures this year. Reports of norovirus were made in Devon, Cornwall, West Midlands and Wales in July and 15 members of the same family in Greater Manchester were struck down with the bug.

Because of the frequent media reports during our exceptionally hot summer, John Harris, a lecturer in public health and policy at the University of Liverpool, wrote that added vigilance on norovirus from Public Health England was needed in the run up to winter. The same pattern was recorded in 2002, when norovirus spread across the country during the winter after initial cases took place in summer.

Hands are responsible for the spread of 80 per cent of infectious diseases and effective hand hygiene continues to be the best and most cost-effective way to prevent the spread of bugs like norovirus. Yet, it can be difficult to guarantee that hand rubs and hand washing facilities will be used correctly. In communal spaces care homes need to think a bit more laterally too – airborne germs are some of the easiest to transmit, and the hardest to prevent. Developing a hygiene strategy can help.

In the washroom, for example, having the best solutions like “no touch” systems that deposit the optimum amount of soap can completely remove the risk of people having to touch soap dispensers with a build-up of germs.

Hand drying is equally as important to prevent germs from leaving the washroom. Bacteria thrive in moisture and the transmission of germs to damp hands is 1,000 times more likely than when they’re dry. Investing in high-quality driers or providing ample paper towels is important. There’s no definitive expert view on which is better but having either is essential and the important thing is that they’re fit-for-purpose. 

Hotspots for hidden germs

There have been recent significant advances in technology recently that can manage an environment’s air quality and help to keep it clean. Filters can sterilise the air to kill bacteria, particularly useful in shared spaces where the transmission risk is greatest, working automatically in the background to prevent germs spreading.

In winter, care homes should be extra vigilant when cleaning areas such as vents, ledges, carpets and upholstery where dust can settle unseen, as these can be a hub for germs. Doormats are often overlooked. Between staff and visitors, care homes have high footfalls and germs and dirt can easily come in on the soles of people’s shoes. Making sure these are regularly laundered is far more effective than vacuuming – the process often built into care homes’ cleaning schedules – which only removes 10 per cent of dirt on the surface.

Hygiene needs to be a board-level consideration for care homes in the winter months at least. Of course, staff want to get it right but in high-pressured care environments simple errors can happen. An efficient and effective hygiene strategy designed by the board can help ensure germs and bugs are contained before they damage staff levels and patient wellbeing.