The Standard Infection Control Precautions (SICPs) are a best practice guide for all NHS healthcare staff.
It applies to every discipline and setting, from nurses and carers to infection prevention and control teams.
SICPs help every healthcare worker to understand how their actions can help stop the spread of viruses and bacteria. They also provide a universal standard to ensure that infection control practices are applied correctly, every time, without variation between facilities.
Most importantly of all, SICPs help to significantly reduce the risk of healthcare associated infections (HCAIs). Regardless of whether an infection is known to be present or not, SICPs should be used in every scenario and, in doing so, will protect the health of staff, patients and visitors alike.
There are 10 elements of SICPs. They are all equally important and, when used together, will help to defend everyone in your facility against even the most dangerous of infections.
1. Patient placement/assessment for infection risk
Admitting new patients or residents into your facility can be challenging. When working hard to keep infections at bay, it’s important to make sure that newcomers aren’t introducing new viruses and bacteria into your community.
Before taking a new patient into your care, they should be initially assessed for infection risks, as well as throughout their stay. This will help you decide how best to treat your new patient, as well as keeping the rest of your patients safe from new threats.
2. Hand hygiene
Thorough handwashing is a critical part of any healthcare worker’s job.
There are five regular occurances when you should stop and wash your hands:
- before patient contact
- before aseptic tasks
- after exposure to body fluids
- after contact with a patient
- after contact with a patient’s surroundings.
Despite this, there may be other environmental factors which mean you need to wash your hands more often. Where possible, using hands-free devices can prevent the spread of bacteria through common touch points.
For example, in the sluice room, the latest bedpan washers and pulp macerators will be equipped with hands-free technology to prevent cross-contamination. These are far safer than using yellow bags, which need to be opened by hand with every use.
3. Respiratory and cough hygiene
Respiratory infections such as COVID-19 can run rife when coughs and sneezes aren’t contained. Healthcare workers and patients alike should follow the guidance of ‘Catch It, Bin It, Kill It’ – sneeze into a tissue, throw it in the bin and then wash your hands.
4. Personal protective equipment (PPE)
The likelihood of being exposed to infection should be constantly assessed, with appropriate PPE worn to provide protection from those risks.
You will also need to ensure that all staff know how to safely wear, remove and dispose of each item – as well as visitors, if the circumstances require it.
5. Safe management of care equipment
All the equipment you use for healthcare should be fit for purpose and well-maintained. For peace of mind (and suitable evidence for CQC inspections), you should keep a log of when your equipment was purchased and any manufacturer warranty information, as well as documents from maintenance and servicing checks.
Sticking to the correct service schedule for your equipment is very important. Without it, you can’t prove that your equipment is well looked after and – even worse – it could break down when you need it most.
Sluice room machinery, for example, should be supported by a suitable care and maintenance package which will ensure maximum uptime and prevent costly breakdowns.
6. Safe management of the care environment
Your equipment and surfaces must be kept safe with thorough cleaning, disinfection and sterilisation.
For hard surfaces, you should consider using an antimicrobial coating system for additional protection.
By applying an antimicrobial coating to touch points such as door handles, light switches and screens, dangerous bacteria and viruses will be killed on contact – and the effects can last for up to six months before re-application is needed.
7. Safe management of linen
Linen is considered ‘infectious’ if it was used by a patient who is known or suspected to have an infection, or it has been contaminated by blood or other body fluids.
The infectious linen should be placed directly into a water-soluble/alginate bag, before going into a clear, plastic bag and transported to the laundry facilities. If an item is heavily soiled and unlikely to be reused, it should be treated in the same way. In addition, you should always tag your laundry bags with the date and care area they came from.
While awaiting collection, used and infectious linen should be stored in a designated area that is safe and lockable. Laundry should always be collected regularly and there should never be a build-up in storage.
It’s also important to remember that your laundry facilities need to be appropriately located. Under no circumstances should a manual sluice facility or sluicing basin be used or situated in the laundry room.
8. Safe management of blood and body fluids
Blood and body fluids are vectors for dangerous bacteria. Spillages must be decontaminated immediately by staff who are trained to do so safely, with the responsibilities for this made clear within each care area.
It’s also good practice to ensure access to a dedicated blood/bodily fluid spillage kit.
9. Safe disposal of waste (including sharps)
If you frequently use items such as gloves, aprons, swabs, dressings and other non-sharps that are contaminated with blood and bodily fluids, you will need to make sure that you are segregating your waste properly.
Failure to do so could result in a hefty fine from your waste management company.
When disposing of human waste, you should use either a bedpan washer or macerator, depending on the toileting products used. This will ensure that healthcare and waste disposal workers aren’t exposed to waste in refuse bags, creating a far safer and more hygienic environment for everyone at your facility.
10. Occupational safety/managing prevention of exposure (including sharps)
Occupational exposure happens when you come into contact with a potentially harmful physical, chemical, or biological agent because of your job. For healthcare workers, you may be at a higher risk of biological exposure if you are exposed to viruses.
You must manage these risks as best you can by using PPE and other barrier methods. There are also some supplementary products that you can use which will reduce the chance of exposure.
Air purification systems, for example, can reduce harmful bacteria on hard surfaces. By drawing in polluted air and treating it using UV light and photocatalytic oxidation, air purification will prevent the spread of viruses through touch and inhalation, creating a powerful form of passive defence.
Standard Infection Control Precautions are absolutely essential to provide safe and effective healthcare.
However, these precautions can be time-consuming.