Infection control starts with hand hygiene

Hand hygiene was identified in the 19th century as an important tool in infection control and this is still true today. In 1846 a doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis took it upon himself to figure out why so many women in materity wards were dying from childbed fever. He studied two maternity wards, one was staffed by all male doctors and medical students, and the other was staffed by female midwives. The patients staffed by doctors and medical students had a death rate of almost 5 times greater when compared with the midwives clinics. The big difference between the doctors’ ward and the midwives’ ward was that the doctors were doing post mortems and the midwives weren’t.

Despite not knowing anything about germs, Semmelweis ordered his medical staff to start cleaning their hands and instruments not just with soap but with a chlorine solution. He chose chlorine not for it’s infection control properties (this was discovered later) but because he thought it would be the best way to get rid of any smell left behind. After imposing these simple changes, the rate of childbed fever fell dramatically.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) whose primary role is to direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations’ system states that thousands of people die every day around the world from infections acquired while receiving healthcare and that “Hands are the main pathway of germ transmission during treatment”. All our staff are trained in the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard of hand sanitation.

Last month the hospital stood still to consider the importance of infection control, it is taken so seriously that all colleagues from all departments, both clinical and non- clinical took two hours out of their busy day to listen to Birgitt Rimell a clinical nurse and infection control specialist from the human field of medicine on how we can improve infection control within a hospital environment.

Birgitt gained her Diploma in Nursing at the University Hospital in Hamburg, Germany.

Most of her early clinical training was in Operating Theatres and subsequently in Infection Prevention Control, specialising in transplant surgery. Whilst working as Theatre Practitioner, she also worked with new Theatre Staff, ODP’s and Student Nurses teaching both Practice and Theory of Infection Control.

Birgitt has several Diplomas in Nursing Education from Germany and Switzerland. She has contributed to a book on Organ Transplantation and wrote the Curriculum for the Operating Theatres at the University Hospital in Hamburg.

After moving to the UK, Birgitt joined the NHS working in the OR. Passionate about Infection Control, and keen to spread best practice, she has worked with Industry since 2002, initially as a Clinical Nurse Specialist first for BSN medical and since 2006 for H&R Healthcare Ltd. specialising in training and education on behalf of BODE Chemie within the UK.

Birgitt reiterated that infection control is too much for one person alone, that it is something the whole team needs to approach head on.

As a hospital, we already have effective cleaning processes in place, using appropriate, hospital grade products and we perform regular environmental monitoring to prove effectiveness, but we can always improve.

We are proud to have an Infection Control Committee and Clinical Governance Committee who are responsible in ensuring we have the appropriate policies and procedures in place to ensure we are providing exceptional infection control throughout the hospital; we are reviewing our new knowledge in line with evidence based, best practise.

The team were given hints and tips to maintain healthy hands and guidance on when it is appropriate to use a hand soap and when an alcohol based products is more appropriate

All colleagues are now armed with personal hand disinfectants to allow easy point of care cleaning of hands.

We are committed to working as a team to remind each other when we could do better.

This blog was written by Claire Roberts RVN