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New national hand hygiene policy aims to ‘reduce variation’


A new national hand hygiene policy has been published by NHS England and NHS Improvement to support a “common understanding” among healthcare staff on the issue.

The development of the strategy has been led by Dr Lisa Ritchie, infection control nurse consultant at Health Protection Scotland, following a year-long project engaging with frontline staff.

“The primary aim is to support a common understanding”

Lisa Ritchie 

She gave a session on the policy at the chief nursing officer for England’s summit this week alongside Linda Dempster, head of infection, prevention and control (IPC) at NHS Improvement, and Craig Bradley, deputy director of IPC at Gloucestershire hospitals trust.

Dr Ritchie said: “The primary aim is to support a common understanding making the right thing easy to do for every patient, every time.

“It aims to reduce variation of practice and standardise care processes and it shouldn’t matter where our healthcare staff care are practising across England… healthcare staff should be receiving the same consistent messaging on IPC including effective hand hygiene,” she added.

The policy sets “the how, the when and the what” around decontaminating hands in healthcare settings, Dr Ritchie added.

She said this “once for England” approach should save time wasted on duplicating hand hygiene policy that could otherwise be spent on other IPC activities.

The IPC chiefs stressed that monitoring of hand hygiene must focus on encouraging improvement rather than performance management.

Ms Dempster said a key issue that led to the development of the policy was whether current data collecting activities by trusts really provided assurance around hand hygiene.

“Hand hygiene monitoring is really quite a skill”

Craig Bradley

Mr Bradley this issue around data collection was a “personal frustration” of his.

He noted how when his four-year-old daughter was being treated for sepsis he observed hand hygiene opportunities being missed yet saw an audit sheet on the wall stating 100% compliance.

“I’m not saying or suggesting that the audits are made up…but I’m saying hand hygiene monitoring is really quite a skill,” he said.

He added that audits were “only part of our improvement journey”.

The importance of good leadership and peer support in this agenda were also highlighted in the session.

Dr Ritchie said the policy was intended to be used as an online tool and had been developed using evidence and “expert consensus”.

She highlighted that the strategy was “the start of our national IPC journey” and that it could be updated in real time with any emerging findings.


Readers' comments (2)

  • On the whole I feel hand hygiene is very good but when you have a busy schedule/shift and the audits have to be completed too all 17 of them each month. I know for me handwashing is my priority always and should be at the heart of good practice. Maybe the is a need to look at administrative assistance to carry out these audits especially on extremely busy units.

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  • I agree with Mr Bradley.
    I was visiting my husband who was also being treated for sepsis & was appalled at the lack of hand hygiene.It is very difficult to complain when you have a very poorly relative on the ward.Busy or not there is no excuse not to comply with something as simple as hand hygiene.

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