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03.10.18

Glove awareness: a new approach

Source: NHE Sept/Oct 2018

Professional lead for infection prevention and control at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Rose Gallagher, discusses her work in raising awareness on the correct use of gloves by healthcare professionals to prevent the spread of infection.

Cleaning and protecting our hands is the most important thing any of us can do to prevent the spread of infection. Nowhere is this more crucial than in healthcare, for proper care of the hands of healthcare workers is vital both for their safety and that of their patients.

Most important of all is the appropriate use of gloves. They protect nurses and other allied healthcare professionals from exposure to harmful chemicals, infectious blood and body fluids. As a result, the NHS spends almost £35m each year buying more than 1.5 billion boxes of examination gloves.

To reduce unnecessary costs to the NHS, staff in clinical settings must understand how best to use gloves correctly; a contaminated or dirty glove, for instance, is as bad as dirty hands. Underuse or overuse of gloves can place nursing staff and patients at risk of contact dermatitis, infection and missed opportunities for hand hygiene.

Using them appropriately means that not only do health organisations avoid unnecessary financial costs caused by unwarranted use, but risks to patients via either contaminated gloves or low hand hygiene compliance due to poor skin health are prevented.

The RCN’s Glove Awareness Week represented a new approach to raising awareness about glove use by championing skin health and bringing a new perspective to hand hygiene.

The campaign, coinciding with World Hand Hygiene Day on 5 May, was the first time the RCN has marked the importance of hand health. It highlighted when gloves should and should not be worn and how to look after skin to prevent infection.

By incorporating free downloadable materials into the RCN’s campaign and involving RCN members across social media, the drive raised awareness of these themes in workplaces across the UK.

It was also an opportunity for nursing staff to share best practice and highlight the real impact that hand hygiene can have on RCN members, their teams and their patients. We also published comprehensive guidance on glove use and hosted a masterclass on skin health for nursing staff.

The overuse of gloves – wearing gloves when they are not needed, in particular – puts nursing staff at risk of work-related dermatitis.

Damaged or non-intact skin places both the patient and the healthcare worker at risk.  A key concern of inappropriate or overuse of gloves is the  effect it can have on the prevention of infection by reducing hand hygiene.

Gloved hands often become sweaty, which can cause the skin to become soggy and damage the skin’s protective barrier. Some chemicals, known as accelerators, which are added to the lining of gloves to improve elasticity, can also cause reactions in some individuals. These conditions provide opportunities for skin lesions to become colonised by bacteria, potentially leading to the transfer or development of infection.

Thus, the appropriate use of gloves is also an important workplace and infection prevention and control issue. There is a legal requirement for organisations to protect staff from work-related skin problems, and employers have a responsibility to prevent skin problems by coordinating a programme of skin checks. 

If such problems develop, it may require nursing staff to be moved out of clinical areas due to infection risks from cracked skin and lesions on their hands. With staff shortages across healthcare, we cannot afford nursing staff to be out of action because of these types of preventable conditions.

 

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