Infection control is an integral part of care home life.
More than a medical facility, care homes are a place for residents to feel safe, comfortable and looked after. Outbreaks of infections such as c. Diff, coronavirus and MRSA will thoroughly ruin this experience, exposing residents to distressing physical symptoms that can even kill.
Furthermore, outbreaks of healthcare-acquired infections can have a devastating effect on your care home’s reputation. After all, you were trusted to look after those who cannot care for themselves. Your community will, quite rightly, have questions.
How did you allow this to happen? Can you really be sure that it won’t happen again? What will you do if it does?
Let’s not forget your hard-working staff, too. They are not immune to illness. When an infection rips through your facility, they are also exposed, resulting in staffing shortages, unmanageable workloads, unexpected costs and less quality time to spend with residents.
Infection control in care homes is essential if we are to prevent these catastrophic outcomes.
Care Home Infection Control and COVID-19
COVID-19 changed how we think about infection control.
Although infection control was always ‘important’, the pandemic turned casual attitudes into life-threatening risks. It became the number one priority for everyone on the premises of a care home, let alone those managing one. At its peak, this was a source of extreme anguish, but the lessons learned have paved the way for a safer care home environment in the future.
Care homes were given a leg-up to purchase more effective infection control equipment, thanks to the Adult Social Care Infection Control Fund. In addition, the CQC now make infection control an additional priority in their inspections, pushing for consistently high standards across the care sector at large.
Care Home Infection Control Guidance
By keeping the CQC’s infection control guidance in mind, care homes can not only prepare for inspections, but be confident that a gold-star standard of infection control is being adhered to each day.
CQC inspectors use the following questions and prompts to assess how well staff and people living in care homes are protected by infection prevention and control. It’s a good way to check that your care home’s infection control procedures are on the right track, before the inspectors come to call.
Are all types of visitors prevented from catching and spreading infection?
During the grip of the pandemic, visitors were often prevented from visiting care homes. Although this helped to reduce infection risk, it was an upsetting turn of events for residents and their families. Now that restrictions have eased, residents and their families can enjoy each other’s company again – but there is a caveat. Care home managers must still take action to prevent visitors from spreading infection when entering and leaving the premises.
It’s important to have set procedures for visitors to follow during their visit, which are clearly communicated. You will need to ensure compliance and also make alternative arrangements when face-to-face visits are not appropriate.
An air purification system can help you to keep communal visiting areas safe. Although not a necessity to pass a CQC inspection, they will demonstrate the care you are taking to stem the spread of infection to and from visitors.
Are shielding and social distancing rules complied with?
Shielding and social distancing were a key component of preventing the spread of COVID-19. There may come a time in the future where such measures are required again.
Should this be the case, you will be expected to not only ensure that social distancing and shielding is achieved, but you will need to manage and support the wellbeing of residents who may be negatively affected by these measures. Similarly, you will need to arrange for reasonable mitigation in situations where social distancing is not possible.
In addition, if an outbreak occurs in your care home, you will need to ensure that you are zoning, cohorting and isolating groups effectively.
Are people admitted into the service safely?
Care homes often need to admit new residents from health services, social care services or the community. You will need to put measures in place to prevent infections being spread to and from the new resident, using the most recent admissions guidance.
Does the service use PPE effectively to safeguard staff and people using services?
When fighting infection, PPE such as gloves and masks are an essential barrier. You’ll need to make sure that you monitor when and how PPE is worn and disposed of, as well as ensuring you provide the correct type of PPE and associated training in how to use it.
Although PPE is lifesaving, it’s often at odds with the feeling of homeliness that your facility endeavours to provide. It’s important that everyone in your facility is sensitive to the anxieties of residents and have appropriate measures in place to bolster communication and support.
A primary benefit of PPE is that it prevents the spread of pathogens via touch. To strengthen this defence, you should consider using an antimicrobial coating on your surfaces.
Antimicrobial coatings can be used to protect touch points including door handles, light switches, and screens. On average, a bottle of Hygenex Recoat Antimicrobial Protector will cover 200-300 door handles and around 500 light switches, as well as providing protection against major HCAI’s including E. Coli, MRSA, Staph aureus and SARS-CoV-2 for up to six months.
It’s simple, economical and will provide long-term peace of mind.
Is there adequate access and take up of testing for staff and people using services?
Routine testing for COVID-19 has become part of daily care home life and is likely to remain so for quite some time.
You will need to keep your finger on the pulse of how staff and residents access these tests, as well as the frequency and consequences of negative results. In addition, you will need to have a procedure in place for when staff refuse a test, as well as having a good understanding of the reasons why they may choose to decline.
Does the layout of premises, use of space and hygiene practice promote safety?
First impressions really do count. You need to ensure that your premises always look clean and hygienic, with a well-scheduled cleaning regimen using effective products.
You will also need to demonstrate how the layout and facilities of the premises have been changed to support infection control.
When it comes to infection prevention, your sluice room is one of the most important areas in your care home. Human waste is a vector for many deadly infections – including COVID-19 – so maintaining area where you clean and dispose of bedpans, commode pots and incontinence pads is crucial.
Use a sluice room checklist to ensure that your sluice room layout is maximised to prevent infection and make good hygiene practices simple to achieve.
Do staff training, practices and deployment show the service can prevent transmission of infection and/or manage outbreaks?
Your staff are on the front line of infection control. You need to make sure that everyone in your facility is well-versed in your infection control procedures, including agency staff.
If your care home experienced COVID-19 cases, you’ll need to demonstrate what you learned from the event and any changes that you made as a result. In addition, staff wellbeing should be thoroughly supported, including the consequences of falling ill, taking sick leave and returning to work.
Is your infection prevention and control policy up to date and implemented effectively?
Your care home needs a robust infection control policy to underpin all of your day-to-day operations.
All of your staff need to understand these procedures, while you ensure that risks are thoroughly assessed and managed. This includes considering and reducing any impact to people who may be disproportionately at risk of infection (BAME, learning disabilities, dementia etc).
When you audit your policy, you’ll need to demonstrate any changes that were made as a result, as well as any contingency planning in place to address future outbreaks and winter pressures.
Do you own or manage a care home? Are you trying to ensure that your infection control procedures are up to scratch?
Infection control in care homes is a complex matter but expert help is at hand to support your success.