25th January 2017

How simple handwashing can prevent the spread of infection

Flicking through the morning news on my phone, amongst all the political doom, was a video - ‘Do you know the six steps to clean hands?’. There was also a reference to new NICE guidelines on the use of medicines used to treat infections (these medicines are called ‘antimicrobials’) and the dangers of overuse and misuse.

In the Health and Social Care Act Code of Practice on the prevention and control of infections and related guidance 2015, it states that adult social care providers (not domiciliary care ) are expected to comply with Criterion 3 of the Code ‘Ensure appropriate antimicrobial use to optimise patient outcomes and to reduce the risk of adverse events and antimicrobial resistance’. Although this sounds like a lot of jargon, it means we need to make sure we use medicines to treat infections sensibly to make sure they continue to work properly. A simple measure all providers can use to help prevent and control infection is handwashing.

A study in 2012 revealed that more than 26% of hands sampled showed traces of faecal contamination including bacteria such as E. coli. Worryingly, out of the samples taken, 11 % of hands, 8 % of credit cards and 6 % of bank notes showed gross contamination - the levels of bacteria detected the same as a dirty toilet bowl.

The World Health Organisation advise washing your hands for as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday twice (you don’t have to do this out loud) and;

  • Use lots of warm, running water and liquid soap to lather your hands and wrists. Avoid bar soap which can carry viruses and bacteria.
  • Rinse hands well with your hands pointing down so the rinse water doesn’t run up your arms.
  • Dry hands ideally on a disposable paper towel-germs can live for hours on hand towels.
  • Turn off the tap using your elbows or a paper towel as a barrier so you don’t have to touch the tap.

Global Handwashing Day is celebrated on 15th October 2017 and is a day dedicated to increasing awareness about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective way to prevent diseases. Given the number of people coughing and sneezing, and our heating systems ramped up to beat the winter weather, maybe 260 days is too long to wait to talk to staff about good handwashing techniques.

This short World Health Organisation video on correct handwashing is a good example to share with your team

For more information on handwashing and infection control QCS Ltd members can access the recently updated Infection Control Policy and procedure.

References :

Antimicrobial stewardship: changing risk-related behaviours in the general population (Joint NICE and Public Health England guideline) Jan 2017

The Health and Social Care Act 2008 Code of Practice on the prevention and control of infections and related guidance

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Philippa Shirtcliffe

QCS Clinical Policy Lead

Philippa started her nursing career 30 years ago in Leeds. After 10 years working predominantly in ITU and Vascular Surgical Units she moved into social care working for Anchor Trust. Since then she has been a branch manager and area manager with responsibility for multiple branches and housing with care. Following a two-year Department of Health funded project exploring the development intermediate care services with a homecare setting within Anchor, Philippa became the Business Development Manager. After developing extensive experience of commissioning practices, policy writing and contract mobilisation, she joined Nestor Healthcare (now Allied Healthcare) as the Head of Policy. Read more

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