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Infection prevention and control nursing: could it be your next career move?

The COVID-19 pandemic has given infection prevention and control extra impetus

COVID-19 highlights why IPC is a vital specialty, and how nurses can work to ensure teams never grow blas about fundamental hygiene

While infection prevention and control (IPC) has always been essential, COVID-19 has thrown its contribution to patient care into sharp relief.

It was taken for granted and has never been as high-profile as it is now, says Nesta Featherstone, associate nurse director for the infection prevention service at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust.

Patients have always been at the heart of what I do

Ms Featherstone qualified as a nurse in 1988 and has worked at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, Cheshire, throughout her career. Nursing was all I ever wanted to do, she says. But I struggled

COVID-19 highlights why IPC is a vital specialty, and how nurses can work to ensure teams never grow blasé about fundamental hygiene

Picture: iStock

While infection prevention and control (IPC) has always been essential, COVID-19 has thrown its contribution to patient care into sharp relief.

‘It was taken for granted and has never been as high-profile as it is now,’ says Nesta Featherstone, associate nurse director for the infection prevention service at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust.

Patients have always been at the heart of what I do

Ms Featherstone qualified as a nurse in 1988 and has worked at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, Cheshire, throughout her career. ‘Nursing was all I ever wanted to do,’ she says. ‘But I struggled at school.’

She did a pre-nursing course before applying to around 80 hospitals all over the country, but no one offered her a place, until Stockport saw her potential. ‘I said I’d work really hard and they gave me a chance,’ she recalls.

‘I felt infection prevention was a service that needed to be out on the wards and part of everyday life – not just an add-on’

Her first role was on an older people’s ward, and after being promoted in the specialty, she went on to manage a 38-bed ward. ‘It was extremely challenging, and the pressures were constant,’ says Ms Featherstone.

Change of career direction into infection control

Nesta Featherstone

Deciding to seek a new direction, in 2006 she joined the trust’s infection prevention and control team. ‘Patients have always been at the heart of what I’ve wanted to do,’ says Ms Featherstone. ‘But I thought it was time for me to look at how I could contribute differently, while still making sure patients had the best care. This role gave me greater scope to achieve more in different areas.’

Four years later, she became the service’s lead. ‘It was very much an office-based role when I started,’ she says. ‘I felt it was a service that needed to be out on the wards, working with people and ensuring infection prevention was part of everyday life – and not just an add-on.’

‘The pandemic has shown us that things we thought were in place may not have been as embedded as we’d hoped’

Promoted to matron in 2019, she took up her current associate nurse director role in January.

In July 2020, Ms Featherstone and her team took part in an IPC pilot safety support programme, run by NHS England. A team from NHS England/NHS Improvement came to the trust to offer support on infection prevention and control issues and identify areas for improvement.

After submitting a business case to trust management following the pilot, Ms Featherstone persuaded the trust to provide more funding for the service.

This will increase the size of her team from its initial three to 16 people. ‘The trust has been so supportive of everything I’ve tried to achieve for our patients and staff,’ says Ms Featherstone.

Advice for moving into infection prevention and control nursing

Nesta Featherstone’s tips for developing your career

Picture: iStock
  • Explore the possibility of spending some time with your organisation’s IPC team. ‘Try it out first, before you make a commitment’
  • If you’re a nursing student, consider this area for one of your placements. ‘We’re trying to take students in the future’
  • Forget the idea that it’s a nine to five, Monday to Friday role. ‘Those who’ve worked with us appreciate how hard it can be. We work seven days a week, including evenings and at night, because if you want to reach people across the organisation, you have to go to them – they won’t come to you’
  • Find out whether your organisation is creating any programmes to encourage people into IPC roles. ‘There aren’t national courses out there at the moment, so many places are considering developing their own’

Maintaining optimum infection prevention during the pandemic

Throughout the pandemic, the team has continued its work to keep patients and staff safe. More than 1,500 ward inspections and 170 on-the-spot audits have been carried out, in areas including hand hygiene, personal protective equipment for staff and patients’ use of face coverings.

‘It’s really important to try to carry on doing the normal things you would do – and part of that is looking at what’s going on in the wards,’ she says.

‘The pandemic has shown us that things we thought were in place may not have been as embedded in the organisation as we’d hoped. All of us can become blind to things like posters – you just stop seeing them.’

‘Infection prevention and control is the golden thread running throughout the organisation – and it has to be right’

For Ms Featherstone, good infection control relies on a combination of factors. ‘You need to make sure all your policies and procedures are in place and that you don’t become blasé about them,’ she says.

‘They also need to be fit for practice so people will follow them. You can’t introduce something unless you know what’s happening on the ground. It’s very easy to write something on a piece of paper and say, “this is how it needs to be done,” but if you cannot do it in practice, it’s not going to work.

‘Infection prevention and control is the golden thread running throughout the organisation – and it has to be right.’

Nursing award for contribution to staff and patient safety

In January, Ms Featherstone’s dedication to keeping patients and staff safe throughout the pandemic was recognised with a Cavell Star Award, after she was nominated by her colleagues.

‘Nesta has a unique ability to find a solution to a problem when it would appear that solutions are limited,’ says Stockport NHS Foundation Trust deputy chief nurse Helen Howard. ‘She always provides the support and has worked tirelessly over this year, often being contacted out of hours to support colleagues during times of significant challenge.’

‘I’m delighted,’ says Ms Featherstone, who was presented with her award at a socially distanced ceremony. ‘It was overwhelming. It’s a good job I was wearing a mask, as tears were streaming down my face. It’s very humbling and made me feel so proud. I’ve been recognised for a job I always wanted to do.’


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