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Nurses win award for halving pneumonia in ICU

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Critical care nurses have won a national award for an innovative pilot scheme, which has halved the risk of seriously-ill patients on ventilators developing potentially fatal pneumonia.

Consultant nurse Lee Cutler, staff nurse Paula Sluman and their colleagues at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals Foundation Trust won the Kimberly-Clark HAI Watchdog Award along with a prize of £1,000. 

The team carried out a historical controlled study to see whether improving oral hygiene and general mouth care would reduce the number of patients developing ventilator-associated pneumonia. 

The pilot began in September 2010, and since then nursing staff have provided enhanced mouth care to all patients on ventilators in critical care, including applying antiseptic chlorhexidine gel to their teeth, gums and mouth four times a day, checking their mouth is free of excess saliva and brushing their teeth well at least twice a day.

The team studied the incidence of pneumonia in 1,087 patients admitted to critical care over a 30-month period – half of whom were admitted before September 2010 and half afterwards – to see if the new mouth care regime had had an impact on rates of pneumonia. 

They found the likelihood of ventilated patients developing pneumonia while in critical care halved when they received enhanced mouth care.

Dr Cutler said: “It’s amazing how something so simple can have such a massive impact on patients’ health and risk of developing infections. Pneumonia can be extremely serious, and often fatal, for patients in intensive care.”

Ms Sluman added: “We are delighted that we have won this award, and even happier that we have been able to make such a difference to our patients by halving their risk of developing ventilator-acquired pneumonia.”

Andrea Berry, chair of the Critical Care National Network Nurse Lead Forum and a member of the judging panel, said: “A big issue for all critical care units is the definition of ventilator-acquired pneumonia. They created a clinical definition and that’s what they are working to. 

“It’s the communication that makes this entry stand out along with the little things such as placing the communication book, which includes regular updates and points for improvement,  by the blood gas analyser so staff can read through it when they have a few minutes to spare.”

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