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‘Can you avoid HCAIs?’

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I live only one mile from the door of the hospital where I work. The schools that my children attend are not much further away. I have lived in my present house for a long time and know a lot of people around the area.

In addition, members of my husband’s family are dotted around the locality. Until I returned to work as a nurse, I really had not appreciated how many people I did know locally. Sometimes, I wish I knew fewer.

What is the reason for this outpouring? It is that I keep meeting people I know, who are visiting the hospital as both patients and visitors. One day I took a full handover, only to discover it was one of my relatives. In report, I had been given her proper name and not the name I knew her by, so was taken by surprise to meet most of my husband’s family sitting in one of the rooms. Luckily, I was not looking after her.

Another family member has had extensive surgery recently. A number of my close friends have spent many hours in the clinical area where I work attending both as patients and relatives. A friend’s partner died on one of the medical wards recently.

So why is it exactly that I hate knowing people attending the hospital?

I dread it for several reasons, including all the things that can go wrong for a person during their patient journey. However, there is one reason that really stands out. It is a fear of anyone developing a healthcare-associated infection.

Surgery saved my mother-in-law’s life but then she contracted Clostridium difficile. To see someone go from 14 to eight stone over a period of six months is quite something. It played a significant part in her death. I fear anyone else I know catching some terrible, life-threatening and drug-resistant infection.

Ten years ago I had my second baby at home for a number of reasons, not least being the fear that either of us could acquire a life-threatening infection. Since then, there have indeed been nationwide reports of maternal deaths in which infection could not be ruled out as a factor.

Everyone nowadays seems scared of developing a healthcare-associated infection. How many stories have we all heard about patients who have gone into hospital armed with a massive supply of tea tree oil wipes and insisted on personally deep-cleaning their own bed areas? And, does anyone have any idea how many of these went on to develop an infection anyway?

So when friends ask what they should do to avoid catching healthcare-associated infections, what realistic advice do I give them – apart from being meticulous about handwashing?

Gail Smith is a staff nurse in Cardiff

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