When I was a student nurse we were taught that gloves created a barrier between the nurse and patient. So for much of my early nursing career I thought nothing of changing soiled beds, emptying commodes and gathering up sputum pots with bare hands. Although I also remember being obsessed with washing my hands at every available opportunity.
I was reminded of this when I visited a friend in hospital a few weeks ago. I was surprised to see healthcare assistants put on gloves to help my friend sit up at lunch time, serve her food, make her bed and carry out routine observations. My friend was not infectious and their reasons for choosing to wear gloves was unclear.
This week we published the results of a small study exploring student nurses’ reasons for wearing gloves, which raised some interesting questions. The students who took part appeared to lack a clear rationale for their decisions; one student commented that she wore gloves for all patient interventions “as I wouldn’t feel comfortable not wearing them”.
The authors note that in clinical placements, students conformed to whatever practices they observed their mentors and other staff doing in relation to glove use. They seemed to lack the underpinning knowledge needed to make decisions for themselves. It also appeared that gloves were often used as barrier based on an assumption that all patients pose an infection risk.
We all have a responsibility to ensure patients receive safe care, and to protect ourselves from risks of infection, but use of gloves must be based on a sound evidence base and protect the unique relationship we have with our patients. The World Health Organization has clear guidance on when gloves should be worn, and all healthcare providers should have policies to guide nurses. However, it is impossible to change practice without addressing staffs concerns and fears, no matter how irrational these appear to be.
Next week we are publishing a guide to personal protective clothing that provides a useful update on when and how to use this essential equipment.
I am interested in your views of glove use and when you decide to wear them.
Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
I also recommend the following article from our archive, which explores in more detail healthcare workers’ attitudes to glove use.