Gloves off: greener infection control with just one small change
RCN Nursing Award winner Robert Vicente’s campaign showed how reducing disposable glove use can save healthcare providers money without jeopardising patient safety
As deputy charge nurse on an infectious disease ward, Robert Vicente was looking for ways to save money and reduce his workplace’s environmental impact.
Inspired by his experience of working in his home country of the Philippines, where there was a visible focus on sustainability, he realised his team at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust could make a big impact by reducing its use of disposable gloves.
Culture change helped prioritise sustainable practice
And so the Gloves Off campaign was born – and it won the Greener Nursing Practice category of the RCN Nursing Awards 2022, sponsored by Greener NHS.
‘Most years I travel to the Philippines because I have a small charity there,’ explains Mr Vicente. ‘One of our values is to be green and we bear in mind environmental and financial issues. Coming back to London, I had a passion for cutting down on costs, but also on improving our environmental sustainability.’
Looking through the ward’s budget, he realised that spending on disposable gloves was high, and that in many cases, use could be curtailed. Mr Vicente then led a project to identify where there was potential to avoid wearing gloves, despite his team caring for the most infectious patients in the trust in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maintaining safety while reducing use of single-use plastics
Liaison with the infection control team was essential to ensure any decision to stop using gloves was clinically safe – and it was reassuring that the initiative had expert backing.
Mr Vicente, who has since moved jobs in the trust and is now a charge nurse in the outpatients department at the Hospital for Infectious Diseases, galvanised ward colleagues to take part in the Gloves Off campaign. It involved promotion via posters, information-sharing in person and by email, and making sure the issue was brought up in team meetings. A key component was promoting excellent hand hygiene and encouraging staff to challenge colleagues who were using gloves when they didn’t need to.
The trust’s sustainability team reckoned that the number of gloves saved over a year would be more than the weight of a Highland cow
The project involved culture change – and it wasn’t always easy. ‘It’s instinctive to wear gloves when you’re feeding or walking with patients or even changing beds,’ explains Mr Vicente. It was important to communicate to all colleagues about where there was a genuine risk of exposure to bodily fluids and it was advisable to continue using gloves, and this communication has been ongoing, he adds.
Tips for implementing and sustaining green nursing initiatives
Advice from Robert Vicente:
- Gather the evidence and make a case for change Appropriate reduction of glove use has benefits for financial and environmental sustainability as well as being good for patients and staff
- Involve key stakeholders In my experience, collaboration with the ward housekeepers was vital because they challenged colleagues when using gloves inappropriately and also had oversight of procurement
- Spread the word and keep the messaging consistent We had posters, promoted the campaign at team meetings and shared with colleagues in person and in emailed updates
- Get the backing and advice from the infection control team This is crucial in terms of ensuring safety and providing reassurance to staff
- Share success widely and involve others We had valuable support from the trust’s communications and sustainability teams, who have helped us publicise the initiative among staff and patients across the trust
Benefits extend to patient care too
Cost and environmental impact are not the only drivers for reducing glove use, stresses Mr Vicente. He makes the point that safe elimination of inappropriate glove use can actually help reduce the risk of infection.
‘There is a false sense of security – you think your hands are clean because you’re wearing gloves, but you end up doing more harm to patients by thinking hands that have gloves are safe, but they’re not even sterile. It’s safer to wash your hands.’
It’s also good for nurses’ skin health, he says. ‘There is a lot of research about people getting dermatitis from using plastic, so both the patient and staff experience have benefited from the Gloves Off campaign,’ he adds.
A (half) tonne of savings
The ward demonstrated a significant reduction in the use of disposable gloves – 36,500 fewer in four months, than in the same period the previous year. The trust’s sustainability team reckoned the number of gloves saved over a year, extrapolated from that figure, would be more than the weight of a Highland cow.
Mr Vicente has publicised the campaign throughout the trust and has been promoting other green initiatives, such as the banning of polystyrene cups.
‘I was deeply honoured and humbled when I was nominated for the RCN award,’ he says. ‘I don’t feel I deserve it. I feel there are other projects worth recognition. But I didn’t realise the impact the project had on the trust – and even outside the trust – it has been amazing.’
What the RCN Nursing Awards judges said
RCN Nursing Awards judging panel chair Joanne Bosanquet, chief executive of the Foundation of Nursing Studies, says: ‘This important project could be spread throughout the UK. Gloves are used so regularly across health services that it would have a significant impact if this was scaled up.
‘Robert’s project is even more impressive given that he introduced it in an infectious disease unit in the middle of a pandemic, and it is great to see our internationally educated nurses using their experience from their home countries to improve care here.’
The Greener Nursing Practice Award is sponsored by Greener NHS