When personal hygiene is key to caring for patients

Luke Rutterford, Technical Manager at Rentokil Specialist Hygiene & Dr Peter Barratt, Technical Manager, Initial Washroom Hygiene

For both managers and employees in healthcare institutions, it’s of paramount importance to maintain the highest possible standards of hygiene. The UK has strict legislation in place to protect the health and safety of both residents and staff in care homes. Failure to comply with regulations can lead to outbreaks of potentially harmful diseases such as Norovirus, resulting in employee absenteeism, and consequent disruption to treatment plans and residents’ day to day lives.

In peak flu season, care homes can find themselves struggling to keep illnesses at bay: for example, one news report revealed a staggering 32 outbreaks of influenza in Gloucestershire care homes in the last three months of 2017.

A large number of people pass through the doors of a care home on a daily basis, and given the fast-changing nature of care work, keeping the care environment clean and sanitised can understandably be a challenge for staff. So what is the best advice for care workers to ensure they are providing a clean and sanitised care facility while minimising disruption to residents?

The care cleaning routine

When it comes to cleaning, little steps can make a big difference. With most bacteria, and 80 per cent of viruses transmissible through touch[1], maintaining surface hygiene goes a long way. A regular cleaning regime should be the cornerstone of your hygiene strategy, as it is a crucial step in helping to prevent outbreaks.

The care home must be subject to vigilant daily and weekly cleaning routines, particularly when the volume of staff, residents and visitors peaks. This will help to maintain a consistent level of hygiene, while ‘hot spots’, such as washrooms, should be given extra attention to ensure that they are always kept clean. We advise that cleaning is scheduled and tracked, ensuring that it takes place regularly and on time.

It’s essential that cleaning is carried out in the care home both proactively and reactively:

  • Proactive cleaning: this involves the routine disinfection of shared contact points – such as door handles, surface tops – and communal areas.
  • Reactive cleaning: This occurs as necessary, for example during an outbreak, or when a known transmissible infection is presented by an individual. In this case, all areas inhabited by the individual should be thoroughly disinfected.

Alongside routine cleaning your regime should also include thorough deep cleans where all furniture is moved away from walls etc and ideally, additional deep cleans should be carried out at least twice yearly by a professional cleaning company. They will have access to specialist multi-purpose biocidal cleaners like Rentokil Initial’s Steri-7 Xtra disinfectant which kills 99.9999% of bacteria, fungi, spores, yeasts and viruses, is non-toxic and offers proven residual protection for up to 72 hours after application, meaning that pathogens re-contaminating clean surfaces are also deactivated, for ongoing protection.

Care home managers may also consider a “Hygiene Healthcheck” consultation to look at all areas in the facility and the way that they are used. This will help to determine an appropriate cleaning regime with a clear focus on contaminated areas, and will help specify the required frequency of deep cleaning, tailored to your facility, along with how specialist disinfection should be implemented to enhance everyday infection control measures.

Sanitising hard-to-reach areas

Ultra Low Volume (ULV) disinfectant fogging is an effective method of disinfection. Fogging is a technique which enables the treatment of large areas in a short space of time. It’s proven that application by ULV can significantly reduce the number of harmful pathogens because it covers those hard-to-reach areas that manual cleaning alone can’t. It generates an invisible mist formed of tiny droplets of specialist disinfectant, which settle underneath, on top of and on the sides of objects, soft furnishings, furniture and hard-to-reach areas offering maximum surface area coverage. An extremely fast and efficient process, fogging has a fast-drying time and can significantly reduce the number of pathogens present when compared to manual surface cleaning alone.  It can be used in conjunction with routine and deep cleaning to ensure all areas are fully sanitised.

The care environment can be cleaned to the high standards demanded by the industry using best-practice decontamination and cleaning techniques, coupled with the most advanced chemicals. ULV fogging can also help to ensure that any outbreaks of illness are rapidly quashed.

It’s important that such techniques are performed by an expert who is fully trained and has comprehensive knowledge of safe operating procedures. ‘Self-delivered’ treatments are often ineffective if completed by untrained personnel. If care managers aren’t sure of how regularly a premises requires deep cleaning, or which cleaning services are needed, get in touch with the professionals, who can conduct a Hygiene Healthcheck to reveal where special attention should be focussed.

Keep your employees in-the-know

It’s essential for care managers to encourage employees to take sufficient care of their personal health and hygiene to prevent the spread of illness. Staff in the care home also need to keep a watchful eye on patients’ health and standards of cleanliness, reporting any shortcomings to their managers.

In being aware of their own health, and diligent when it comes to monitoring hygiene standards, they can reduce the possibility of infection spreading further. Continuous training and development for both management and staff, helps to ensure high standards of hygiene are maintained alongside operational efficiency as well as preventing unnecessary downtime in the facility.

Above all, don’t neglect the basics of personal hygiene: particularly hand hygiene. Some diseases, like Norovirus, are transmissible for several days and can live on hard surfaces such as door handles and walls. Therefore, cross contamination can be particularly prevalent in communal environments such as care homes. To minimise the spread of bacteria, viruses and therefore illness, hands should be washed thoroughly for 20–30 seconds using soap and water, and then dried properly. But when the modern worker is so time-poor, it can be easy for standards to slip. For example, a survey of 1,000 office workers by Initial Washroom Hygiene found that only 31% claim to wash their hands for more than 20 seconds every time. We would expect this figure to be higher when it comes to care workers; however, during busy periods, adherence to safe hand hygiene practices can drop.

If an outbreak does occur, it’s important that a professional deep clean and disinfectant fogging treatment is carried out. What’s more, employees should not become complacent after a deep clean and should ensure standards of cleanliness are kept high. Employee training and constant reinforcement of best hygiene practice is an important driver.

Final thoughts

Maintaining hygienic and resident-friendly premises extends beyond the use of specialist cleaners and the latest cleaning technologies. It also requires the support of staff in taking personal responsibility for their own hygiene, and in following infection control procedures.  By taking these precautions, care homes can ensure they are meeting the standards required both by UK legislation and those expected by their residents.


[1] http://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/implementation/topics/immunization.html

Anita Smith

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