Making it easier to prevent and control infection in hospitals

Consistent best practice is needed to solve a problem that costs the NHS £1 billion a year

Consistent best practice is needed to solve a problem that costs the NHS £1 billion a year, says the Infection Prevention Society's vice-president  

Picture: Jim Varney

Infections are a significant burden on hospitals in terms of patient safety and cost. In England each year, an estimated 300,000 patients acquire a healthcare-associated infection, such as bloodstream infections caused by MRSA or gram-negative bacteria and Clostridium difficile. These types of infection cost the NHS at least £1 billion a year.  

Practices and procedures that reduce infection lead to improved patient outcomes, cost savings and more efficient use of resources. This is why infection prevention and control are essential parts of our healthcare infrastructure.  

Consistent approaches 

But it is an increasingly complex and changing field, with healthcare professionals required to deal with current and emerging threats. In May 2016, for example, the government launched a drive to halve gram negative infections such as E. coli by 2021, and the issue of antimicrobial resistance remains high on the global agenda.  

The extent and pace of change means nursing leaders and their teams need to know that they are using best practice to ensure maximum control and achievement of targets. Consistency in approaches is key, but often standards are different between trusts.

Describing the same infection prevention measures using different terminology, for example, can lead to uncertainty and make it difficult for staff to do the right thing.  

Professional competencies 

Considering the pressures staff are under, and the targets they are asked to meet, we must make taking action easy. It is important that chief nurses, directors of nursing and directors of infection prevention and control can all access and enact relevant guidance and governance.   

To help ensure this, the Infection Prevention Society (IPS) has developed a set of professional competencies that will enable full practical governance of infection prevention staff so they can further their understanding and identify gaps in their knowledge.  

The competencies, updated to be as user-friendly and engaging as possible, cover four areas:  

  • Clinical practice. 
  • Education. 
  • Quality improvement. 
  • Leadership and management. 

They also help trusts to optimise their approach to infection prevention, and nursing leaders can use them to help gauge how their team is performing. To help address these issues and achieve a consistent, highly trained workforce, the IPS will launch the UK’s first specialist credentialing system at our conference this autumn.  

A capable workforce

The system will help nursing leaders and directors of infection prevention and control to ensure their teams are delivering best practice infection control procedures. Based on peer-review evidence aligned with that required for professional revalidation, the system will help provide assurance for employers that the infection prevention and control service is led, managed and delivered by a capable workforce. 

It is vital that healthcare teams have the skills, education and practical experience to deliver the infection prevention agenda. We must help ensure that resources are maximised to provide high levels of productivity, skill sets are effectively deployed, knowledge is widespread and that nursing leaders have the right level of talent in their teams.  

By supporting healthcare professionals to take control of infection prevention, we can improve patient outcomes and ward productivity, and ensure savings for the NHS.  

Pat Cattini is vice-president of the Infection Prevention Society 

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