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Meeting the challenge of infection control

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 46, PAGE NO: 50

Joan Cochrane, MSc, RGN, RM, NDN (Cert), Adv.Dip. Health Sciences, is senior lecturer in infection control, University of Northumbria

Many patients are vulnerable to infections in all health care settings. This can delay their recovery or can even prove fatal. Infections also considerably increase costs to the NHS (National Audit Office, 2000).

Many patients are vulnerable to infections in all health care settings. This can delay their recovery or can even prove fatal. Infections also considerably increase costs to the NHS (National Audit Office, 2000).

Infections do not recognise institutional or societal boundaries, and it is now recognised that infection control is not only relevant to acute care settings.

All health care workers - whether or not they are involved in direct patient care - must acknowledge that compliance with the principles of infection control practice with all patients at all times helps to minimise the transmission of infection between patients, staff and visitors (Pratt et al, 2001).

Access to education
Although there is a wealth of infection control information and evidence available, this is often inaccessible to those working at ward or departmental level. Education and training are recognised as having an important role in preventing and containing infection (Cookson et al, 2001). However, specific education on infection control has in the past been provided in a limited number of higher education establishments and has been accessible only to nurses specialising in infection control.

While some providers of nurse education are reviewing and revising existing ENB infection control courses, the University of Northumbria has adopted a proactive approach to meeting the infection control education needs of local NHS trusts. In collaboration with the Northern England Workforce Confederation, a senior lecturer, infection control, post has been established.

The purpose of the post was to improve infection control practice through education and thus reduce infection rates. An early challenge was to optimise ward-based/patient-based health care by providing education that emphasised that infection control is the responsibility of all health care workers. This resulted in the production of a video training pack addressing the standard principles of infection control for all health care environments.

The training pack is designed as a resource to enable all health care workers in all settings to develop an understanding of the standard principles of infection control practice. It also gives them an opportunity to explore their daily clinical practice.

The main topics covered are organisational policy, environmental hygiene, skin integrity, hand hygiene, personal protective equipment, spillages, waste disposal, sharps disposal, needlestick injury and conjunctiva/mucous membrane splashes. The package is seen as a valuable training resource and is relevant to both NHS establishments and the independent sector.

The training package is suitable for use with both professional and ancillary employees. However, education needs to be provided using a structured approach which facilitates life-long learning, career enhancement, professional and personal development (NHS Executive, 1998).

The university is therefore developing a series of study units focusing on different aspects of infection control. These can be offered either as stand-alone units or as part of the continuing professional framework, enabling many more professionals to undertake formal education in infection control.

Students taking the foundation unit will acquire a more comprehensive understanding of infection control practices, issues and contemporary policy. They will increase their knowledge-base of a previously unfamiliar subject area and apply their new theoretical knowledge to everyday clinical practice. It is hoped that in the long term, this may result in a reduction in infection rates at ward level.

For professionals who wish to expand on this foundational knowledge, other units look at acute care, communicable disease control and multi-agency infection control practice. This latter unit is suitable for those who work in non-acute health care settings, such as mental health, primary care and the independent sector.

Supporting infection control education locally
Infection control nurse specialists will always be an asset to NHS trusts, with their contribution to in-house education and training strategies, and participation in higher education courses. The University of Northumbria is assisting local infection control teams to meet the challenges they face in providing infection control education.

Hand hygiene 'masterclasses' support the teams by helping to reinforce the importance of hand-washing and maintaining good hand-washing practice among health care workers. These masterclasses are seen as a mechanism that will assist in minimising the spread of infection.

Modern health care involves both high and low technology interventions. The essence of infection control is the provision of effective education and training on infection control practices to all health care workers.

More comprehensive knowledge and understanding of infection control issues will greatly assist these workers in the prevention, management and control of health care-associated infections. Enhancing knowledge and encouraging professional development are also integral components of clinical governance frameworks.

It is important to encourage all health care workers to take up learning opportunities. However, it is equally important to recognise that different groups have different needs and to adapt teaching strategies and methods to ensure that educational provision meets the needs of the whole health care workforce.

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