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Specialist nurses warn of cuts to infection prevention services

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Infection prevention leaders have called for more investment in services, after around a third of clinicians taking part in a survey reported seeing reductions in their specialty over the past two years.

The Infection Prevention Society (IPS), which ran the survey and has nurses making up 85% of its membership, warned that without extra money for these services patient safety would be put at risk.

“Early intervention through infection prevention saves lives as well as significant cost to the NHS”

Neil Wigglesworth

Of the 447 IPS members taking part across the UK, 35% said the overall resources in their organisation for infection prevention and control had decreased.

The same percentage said infection prevention teams had been given additional or other duties over the past two years, while 28% had seen a reduction in the number of posts among the specialism.

Meanwhile, a quarter of respondents reported that specialist staff were being made to work in a clinical capacity to cover for staff shortages within their organisation.

The most common concern – reported by 29% – among those who had experienced reductions to their area of practice was the serious risk that it posed to patient safety.

Meanwhile, 9% said they were worried they would not be able to meet new national targets around infection control, such as England’s plan announced at the end of 2016 to halve the number of gram-negative bloodstream infections – which include Escherichia coli – by 2020.

Although 22% also said they were not concerned by the cuts to services.

The IPS noted an estimated 300,000 patients a year in England acquired a healthcare-associated infection as a result of care within the NHS, with an estimated cost to the health service of at least £1bn.

Infection Prevention Society

Deadly bacteria spread by hospital sinks of ‘grave concern’

Neil Wigglesworth

It said specialist teams would be key to meeting the government’s target in England. For example, they would need to work with clinical teams to investigate cases of bacteraemia, prevent avoidable infections – such as catheter associated urinary tract infections – and educate staff about the threat from gram negative bloodstream infections and how to prevent them.

“There is clear evidence that early intervention through infection prevention saves lives as well as significant cost to the NHS,” said IPS president Dr Neil Wigglesworth.

“While some hospitals and healthcare providers recognise this, with 65% of our members reporting that infection prevention services are being extended or maintained, others are cutting back,” he said.

“This will have an inevitable impact on patient safety and could cause significant disruption to health service delivery,” said Dr Wigglesworth.

“We are all working to achieve the new targets to reduce E. coli and other infections, and need NHS leaders and commissioners to maintain investment and help us reach these goals,” he added.

About the survey results

The online survey was carried out with Infection Prevention Society members in April 2017. Key data includes:

  • 447 Infection Prevention Society members in total responded to the survey
  • 395 respondents were based in the England (22 in Scotland, 12 in Wales, six in Northern Ireland)

When asked about whether there were dedicated IPC staff for community services in the area where they work:

  • 75% said that there are dedicated IPC staff for community services
  • 9% said they had never had dedicated IPC staff for community services
  • 8% said they had dedicated staff for community services but they were cut

When asked about whether total resource for IPC in the organisation had decreased or stayed the same in the last two years;

  • 46% said it had stayed the same, 35% said it had decreased, 19% said it had increased

When asked about what they had experienced in the last two years in relation to IPC:

  • 35% said IPC teams being asked to do other duties / been given extra IPC duties
  • 30% said a reduction in IPC resource in the organization where they work
  • 28% said a reduction in IPC posts or hours in the organization where they work
  • 25% said IPC specialist staff made to work clinically to cover staff shortages/other pressures

When asked if they had experienced a reduction in IPC services in the organisation where they work, what their key concern was:

  • 29% said serious risk to patient safety
  • 22% said they were not concerned
  • 19% said they had not experienced a reduction
  • 9% said not being able to meet new national requirements (e.g. E coli target in England)
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