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Would you wear gloves to wash a patient’s face and hands?

  • Comments (7)

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.

Does glove use increase the risk of infection?

  • Comments (7)

Readers' comments (7)

  • Anonymous

    As I suffer from dry skin and has allergic reactions to most cleaning agents and soaps I wear gloves to wash patients also the same bowl of water is then used for the rest of the body and most times my patients are also incontinent. I do have to wash my hands so often so using moisturiser is a waste of time.

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  • Pussy

    Under normal circumstances NO! It's an insult to the patient and reflects nurses basic lack of knowledge. Yes if there's any soiling or blood. Many nurses spend much of their shift in gloves in the common mistaken belief they will "catch". something life-threatening.

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  • Anonymous

    even if you don't understand French, the body language says it all. the patient asks the HCA under supervision if he is preparing to do the cleaning!

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  • Anonymous

    Well make your minds up. Either nurses are dirty creatures who care little for hygiene and care of patients; or they are creating a barrier by wearing gloves to wash patients.
    There are many reasons why nursing assistants et al wear gloves to touch patients, especially when using soap and water. Many patients like to use their highly scented smelly products which may exacerbate or even cause contact dermatitis. I have had terrible problems with my hands in the past 20 years, even having to have them bandaged at one point; and all caused by different types of soaps, gels and cheap hand washing products used in hospitals.
    I do not blame any nurse for using gloves for patient contact. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Patients (and often their relatives are very quick to complain.)
    AND I am so glad I am not working in ward areas where I can be accused of either causing a barrier or accused of spreading infection.

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  • I graduated in the '70's and was taught to rarely wear gloves. I found the change-over difficult but gave in after I acquired a herpes infection in one finger from and unknown source. I have been on Valtrex once a day for more than ten years because without it I could have a reoccurrence at any time. The infectious disease doctor I saw asked if I wore gloves for mouth care and I said no. That's likely how I picked it up, a small open area along the side of one fingernail was all that was necessary to pick up the herpes virus which will never leave me now. So, a lesson learned, and one I pass on to nursing students whenever I have the opportunity.

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  • Anonymous

    In this case the old way is not the best way-always wear gloves

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  • Anonymous

    I wonder is this down to common sense, lack of knowledge, or a lack of emotional intelligence which I fear has been generally lacking for a long time across the NHS.

    I too was taught many years ago when there were enough qualified nurses based on the ward to guide and mentor students and new staff.

    In my experience, so many of these nurses were valuable sources of information who helped shape the professional I became. Many had undergone 2 years basic training and had a wealth of hand-on experience which was gratefully passed on.

    I was equipped (for example) with enough emotional intelligence to enable the appropriate glove on/off decisions to be made - especially in respect to the sensitive colo-rectal surgical area I later worked in.

    On too many occasions since I've collaborated with people who sadly even lack the emotional intelligence required to communicate with their staff teams! I'm also all too often reading of examples in the blogs and posts placed here.
    Sadly, what chance do we stand in getting it right with our patients?

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