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Non-standardised infection prevention breeds confusion

We can help make sure that no person is harmed by a preventable infection

By making sure guidance is commonly understood and clearly defined, we can help achieve the Infection Prevention Society’s vision: that no person is harmed by a preventable infection.

At any one time, around one in 20 inpatients in acute hospitals have a healthcare associated infection (HAI). The consequences for those who become infected can be severe, and there’s also a huge financial implication, with HAIs estimated to cost the NHS around £1bn each year.

Standard Infection Control Precautions (SICPs) are the basic infection prevention and control measures that help prevent healthcare associated infections and prepare us for emerging threats.

Infection prevention requires the reliable implementation of SICPs at every stage of patient care.

If SICPs are not understood by all healthcare staff then the risk of cross-transmission may not be sufficiently reduced.

Many microorganisms are worryingly suited to survive in our healthcare environments for many months. Microorganisms move from where they do no harm to where they cause significant harm, through contaminated equipment, hands, and the environment.

The practices outlined by SICPs, including physical barriers, safety equipment, environment decontamination and personal behaviour, all significantly reduce infection risks without causing unwanted consequences. SICPs must be used by all healthcare staff.

Successful implementation of these measures requires guidelines that support a common understanding.

Guideline and policy developers sometimes use different terminology or interchange the precautions required, which makes it difficult for staff to do the right thing, and can lead to uncertainty. Elements of SICPs must therefore be standardised so they are commonly understood, clearly defined and explained in policy, for easy translation into practice in all care settings

Infection prevention and control is a constantly changing field, requiring us to deal with both current and emerging threats, from Ebola to antimicrobial resistance.

Our ability to tackle and respond to these issues will be more efficient and effective if all healthcare workers across all disciplines see the same information and precautions across all organisations.

As someone on the frontline of infection prevention and member of the Infection Prevention Society, I have seen first-hand the important benefits that clear and consistent infection guidance can have.

By ensuring that infection policies and guidance are as user-friendly as possible, we can support health workers to do the right thing for every patient, in every setting.

Lisa Ritchie, member of the Infection Prevention Society and Nurse Consultant Infection Control