Hand hygiene and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

For World Hand Hygiene Day 2021, the World Health Organisation calls on healthcare workers and facilities to achieve effective hand hygiene action at the point of care. Nuffield Health’s Carol Kefford, Clinical Director and Chief Nurse, Stephanie Cockeram, Housekeeper at Nuffield Health Wessex Hospital, and Louise Wright, Regional Clinical Lead Physiologist at our London Medical Centre, tell us about their views of hand hygiene practices and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: Do you think hand hygiene practices have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Carol Kefford: Due to the pandemic, everyone is so much more aware of the difference that very good hand hygiene makes, wherever you are. I think it has become much more of a habit and of course there are reminders everywhere now with hand gel stations so visible in public places. Because COVID-19 is such a personal threat it has driven a different behaviour, we are all very motivated to keep ourselves and others safe.

Stephanie Cockeram: Hand hygiene has always been of paramount importance here at Nuffield Health Wessex Hospital. We have hand hygiene practice testing and regular audits are carried out to ensure every member of our hospital team are following procedures. We also follow the World Health Organisation’s '5 Moments' which ensures we sanitise our hands at the correct times when around patients and when we work in different environments. Outside of the hospital, I certainly believe people are far more aware and they are using hand sanitiser where they would never have thought to before, as well as being more mindful to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly.

Louise Wright: In health assessments, the implementation of hand hygiene has always been high. However, our teams are much more aware of the World Health Organisation’s '5 Moments' and subsequently hand hygiene adherence has increased because there are now more reminders! The public are also more aware of the need to disinfect their hands which is how we will continue to reduce the risk of infections spreading. I don’t think I’ve been on a train where someone hasn’t got a little hand sanitiser bottle out of their bag!

Q: What do you think will happen to hand hygiene practices after the COVID-19 pandemic?

Carol: In our hospitals and clinics I believe our people, patients and visitors will be much more aware of the importance and will continue to keep up the effective practice of hand hygiene. We must also keep the importance of very good hand hygiene in our 113 fitness and wellbeing centres, not just in hospitals and clinics. It’s important all of the time, everywhere.

Stephanie: I am hopeful that hand hygiene will remain very high in priority. The pandemic has affected so many lives and the simple act of proper hand hygiene can also save many lives in the future. I think people are much more conscious now of what they might be touching and what is on their hands and can easily be spread.

Louise: Ultimately, I think the impact of the pandemic is far-reaching and long term. This includes behaviours and habits that have been formed. The hand hygiene message has been consistent throughout the pandemic and the increased awareness and access to hand sanitising units has subsequently increased. If these units remain available in public places, such as train stations and restaurants, then I think there will be continued awareness and application.

Q: Do you think that the work of infection control teams is viewed as more important now than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic?

Carol: Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has given me the opportunity to see just what great leaders infection control experts are, as well as subject matter experts. They have shown us the way and given us the collective confidence that we can keep ourselves, our fitness and wellbeing centre members and our hospital patients safe.

Stephanie: Working in cleanliness as a housekeeper, I have always held infection prevention with high regard, I regularly attend infection prevention meetings and they have become vital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Louise: Definitely. I have recently been completing an ‘Enhanced Infection Prevention and Control’ training course through Nuffield Health and at De Montfort University. This has opened my eyes to the work of an infection prevention team within an acute setting, as well as our central team’s dedication to improving and challenging infection prevention practice across the wider charity.

More information about best hand hygiene practice can be found in our article An expert guide to washing your hands.

Last updated Wednesday 5 May 2021

First published on Tuesday 4 May 2021