Preventing infection is a major challenge facing healthcare workers today. To meet that challenge, an industry has developed specialising in training people at all levels, from carers in homes for the elderly to senior hospital medics, to adopt proven safe practice.

Keeping up with the evolution of drug-resistant pathogens and research into the best techniques means that it is essential to refresh knowledge regularly and for organisations to ensure that staff are following the advice from their training. Family members caring for the sick and injured at home are also being targeted as a possible source of infection and front line defenders in the battle against it. Research into the effectiveness of infection control techniques has highlighted the size of the challenge and the fact that not everyone who could do so recognises their role or takes it seriously. The National Institute of Heath and Clinical excellence (NICE) issued guidance in 2012 and that guidance is due to be reviewed at the end of 2016.

Christine Carson, programme director at the Centre for Clinical Practice at NICE, said: “As a result of the rapid turnover of patients in acute care settings, complex care is increasingly being delivered in the community. This includes the care given to a large population group living at home and in care homes who have long-term conditions and who need to use catheters and venous access devices. Infection prevention in these settings is, therefore, just as important as in hospital. “Because much care is delivered by informal carers and family members – there are currently approximately six million unpaid carers in the UK, a number that is likely to increase with an aging population – this guideline is as applicable to them as it is to healthcare professionals. “The guideline states that everyone involved in providing care, including patients themselves, should be educated about the standard principles of infection prevention and control and trained in hand decontamination, the use of personal protective equipment, and the safe use and disposal of sharps. These issues should be at the top of the agenda for anyone who provides care for a patient, regardless of setting and regardless of whether they are a healthcare professional, an informal carer or a family member.”

Despite this advice and similar recommendations in other countries, the American Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology recently issued a statement saying research in the state of New Mexico at 15 separate outpatient departments had shown hand washing was skipped in one third of cases. The authors of the study stated: “This project highlights the importance of assessing both the report of recommended infection prevention policies and practices, as well as behaviour compliance through observational audits. This is critical because there have been outbreaks and infection transmission to patients reported in outpatient settings due to these types of infection prevention breaches, including transmission of hepatitis B and C.” In every instance observed hand hygiene supplies had been readily available, according to the team.