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A clean sheet in infection control

13 September 2019

Clare Long, business account manager at the Professional division of Miele, explains why laundry matters in the battle against infection in care homes

Failing to effectivity get a grip on infection control in a care home can lead to disastrous consequences, not only from a regulatory perspective, but for the health of the home’s residents too. That said, preventing the control of infection in an environment with residents vulnerable to catching and passing on infection is a challenge.

Infection control procedures need to be applied throughout care homes, and the laundry environment is no exception. By developing and abiding by an effective infection control plan for laundry processes, care homes can ensure they’re doing all they can to prevent the spread of infection. Without clear guidelines on best practice procedures, staff can sometimes struggle to maintain high standards of hygiene. That is why it’s crucial to include the following factors and regulations when introducing or revising your infection control plans for laundry:-

  1. Hand hygiene

Regular handwashing from staff, visitors and residents can prevent harmful germs or microorganisms from being transferred to other people, equipment or surfaces. The policy should specifically state when handwashing should take place during the laundry process, for example after handling soiled washing or after ‘hands-on’ contact with a resident.

  1. Personal protection

Some activities will require employees to put special measures into place to prevent the spread of infection. For example, an employee should use latex gloves and an apron when loading soiled laundry into the washing machine. They should remove these and dispose of them before moving onto a different task, which could involve handling clean laundry, to avoid contaminating any areas of the care home.

  1. Effective decontamination 

Many care home residents will be incontinent, so items such as bed linen are frequently contaminated. It is therefore important to ensure infection control policies include guidelines on decontamination. Care homes can use a sluice sink to remove as much residue as possible from soiled materials before being laundered, ensuring that the water being used to wash items is clean. 

Once the washing is complete, laundry operators need to make sure clean items aren’t re-contaminated by soiled ones. Specialist laundry equipment, such as Barrier Washers can prevent cross-contamination. They have a dirty and clean side, in separate rooms, and laundry operators place dirty items in the machine while in the ‘dirty’ room, before washing their hands and leaving the room. They then take the clean laundry out of the other side of the machine while in the ‘clean’ room, preventing the items from being re-contaminated by the environment that the dirty items were in.

  1. Regulation

The strict regulations that care homes must abide by include laundry procedures, and it is important that these industry regulations are incorporated into your infection control plan. The Department of Health’s ‘Health Technical Memorandum 01-04 (HTM 01-04)’ is a set of guidelines that care home managers should follow. They make it compulsory for care homes to ensure that bed linen is thermally disinfected using washing cycles that reach and hold at the following temperatures and time: 65⁰C for at least 10 minutes, 71⁰C for at least three minutes or 85⁰C for one minute. 

  1. Brief staff

An infection control plan shouldn’t just involve giving employees a booklet for them to read through. Employees need to be thoroughly briefed on the correct laundry procedures and shown how to keep standards of hygiene high, and as soon as new industry regulations come into force, staff should be updated. Some care home departments, such as the laundry and cleaning team, often experience a higher-than-usual staff turnover, so care home managers should keep up to date with new recruits who are doing the laundry and ensure they are briefed.

Any nursing or care home manager knows that ensuring high standards of hygiene shouldn’t just be an ‘add-on’ to care that they deliver; it should be an integral part of it. A robust infection control plan will give staff clear guidelines on how to carry out laundry hygienically, and ensure that regulations are met and that the threat of a spread of infection is kept to a minimum.