Infecting hospital staff with contagious awareness

Infections picked up in hospital affect almost a third of patients in intensive care, and kill 44% of those people. Given that some infectious agents can linger for weeks or months it is increasingly important that staff awareness of the problem is improved and that training in infection prevention across the National Health Service and in private healthcare is expanded, according to researchers at the University of Northampton.

Microbes such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), glycopeptide resistant enterococci (GRE), vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) and Streptococcus spp. (e.g. alpha-haemolytic) are the biggest infection threats to patients under NHS care. Now, writing in the International Journal of Behavioural and Healthcare Research, Terry Tudor, a researcher in Waste Management within the University’s Centre for Sustainable Waste Management points out that training in infection prevention and in the control of waste in hospitals is critical to reducing infection rates caused by these and other pathogens. Bacteria, viruses and other pathogens are generally spread through direct contact with contaminated surfaces or staff or through the air in the case of airborne organisms.

Tudor points out that the prevalence of MRSA and C. difficile has fallen recently within the NHS, although whether this is due to improved hygiene and deep-cleaning procedures or other factors is not yet known. “The management of various factors in the physical environment, including clinical waste has been demonstrated to impact upon levels of pathogens,” he explains. However, there are social and economic factors to consider if further improvements are to be made. Staff perceptions have to be addressed through training at all levels in order to sustain improvements that have been made and to avoid complacency creeping in. Importantly, there have to be efforts to consider the associated environmental impact and cost of managing hazardous medical waste, says Tudor.

Infection is not only about hygiene it is about attitude from management through to ward staff. “Differences in practices by different job categories suggest that any initiatives should be targeted towards specific job categories and have the support of senior managers if they are to be successful. In addition, there should be particular attention paid to younger staff who have been employed for less than ten years at the site,” he concludes.

“Overcoming attitudes and perceptions towards the management of infections and waste in the hospital setting: a case study from the UK” in International Journal of Behavioural and Healthcare Research, 2011, 2, 307-319