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'Taking control of infection prevention must be a high priority'

Neil Wigglesworth
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Infection prevention is a vital part of our healthcare infrastructure. 

Practices and procedures that reduce infection mean improved patient outcomes, cost savings and more efficient use of resources. We must ensure that those on the front line are well-armed to tackle the key challenges we face.

We cannot afford for infection prevention to fall down the agenda. The rise in gram-negative bloodstream infections demonstrates that the battle against healthcare-associated infection is very much ongoing. New data released by Public Health England showed that the number of infections with E. coli, MRSA, and MSSA and Clostridium difficile all increased from the previous year.

There were more than 41,000 E. coli infections reported by NHS trusts in the year to March 2018, according to the figures, which came on the back of the first year of the government’s drive to halve gram-negative infections such as E. coli by 2021. This data is from England but hospitals and healthcare organisations are facing the same challenges in all parts of the UK.

Despite the need for urgent and ongoing action, a recent analysis by NHS Improvement found that less than half of 134 hospital trusts in England examined had presented an annual report on infection prevention to their board, even though it is a legislative requirement.

The findings prompted NHSI to write to all trusts, asking them to prioritise reporting of gram-negative bloodstream infections, and make their annual infection prevention reports public and part of their board reporting process.

Clearly, there is work to do to ensure we meet infection prevention targets and tackle the threats we face. But considering the various pressures that staff are under, we must make taking action easy.

“This will enable trusts to deliver against infection prevention requirements and promote best practice among their teams”

It is important that chief nurses, directors of nursing and directors of infection prevention and control can access and enact guidance and be assured that they have robust governance on infection prevention. This will enable trusts to deliver against infection prevention requirements and promote best practice among their teams. 

To help ensure this, the Infection Prevention Society (IPS) has developed a set of professional competencies that provide leaders with assurance of the professional development of their infection prevention staff. They ensure that infection prevention professionals can assess their skills and knowledge, further their understanding and identify development needs and opportunities.

The competencies cover four areas: clinical practice; education; quality improvement, and leadership and management. They also help trusts to optimise their approach to infection prevention, and senior staff can use them to help gauge how their team is performing.

“Infection prevention and control is an increasingly complex and constantly changing field”

Infection prevention and control is an increasingly complex and constantly changing field, with healthcare professionals required to deal with various threats. Antimicrobial resistance, for example, is a concerning problem and is one of the drivers for the increase in gram-negative blood stream infections.

Ensuring that infection prevention is high on the agenda for hospital trusts is an important part of combatting antimicrobial resistance. Good infection prevention stops the spread of resistant bacteria and every infection prevented is one that doesn’t require antibiotics to be given.

The fast pace of change means senior staff and their teams need to know that they are up to date and using current best practice to ensure maximum control and achievement of targets. It is vital that healthcare teams have the skills, education and practical experience to meet the infection prevention agenda.

“The system will help employers to recruit, maintain and develop an infection prevention and control service that is led, managed and delivered by a highly skilled and capable workforce”

To help ensure this, IPS will announce the UK’s first specialist infection prevention credentialing system this autumn. The system will give nursing leaders and directors of infection prevention and control, as well as other system leaders, the assurance that their teams have the development, education and experience needed to deliver best practice infection control procedures.

Based on a peer-review of evidence, the system will help employers to recruit, maintain and develop an infection prevention and control service that is led, managed and delivered by a highly skilled and capable workforce.

Infection prevention is an ongoing challenge – we need to give healthcare staff the right support so they can address every situation effectively. Doing so will bring benefits for staff, trusts and the healthcare workers within them.

Dr Neil Wigglesworth is president of the Infection Prevention Society

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