Principles of preventing infections

If you have any concerns about the precautions taken by your healthcare worker, you should discuss this with them.

Everyone involved in providing care should be educated about preventing infection, and should receive training in keeping hands clean, using protective equipment (such as gloves and aprons) and the safe use of sharps. Healthcare workers will make sure they have the equipment they need to help prevent infections.

Keeping hands clean

It is essential that hands are cleaned in the correct way when any type of healthcare is carried out, in order to minimise the risk of passing on infections. This is sometimes called 'hand hygiene' or 'hand decontamination'. This applies to anyone who is caring for you, and to you if you are looking after yourself. You should remind your healthcare workers and any other carers about this if you feel that they are not following the correct procedures.

Healthcare workers should make sure that their hands can be cleaned effectively throughout the time they are providing care, by:

  • removing wrist and hand jewellery (including watches)

  • having short, clean fingernails without nail polish

  • covering any cuts or grazes with waterproof plasters

  • wearing clothes that are short-sleeved or have sleeves that can be easily pushed up.

Hands must be cleaned at all of the following times:

  • immediately before and immediately after any healthcare activity or procedure

  • immediately after any exposure to body fluids

  • immediately after any other activity or contact with a patient's surroundings that could cause hands to become contaminated

  • immediately after removing gloves.

Hands that aren't visibly dirty should be cleaned using a handrub that conforms to British Standards. However, liquid soap and water must be used if hands look dirty or could have come into contact with body fluids, or if there is a risk of spreading infections that cause diarrhoea, such as Clostridium difficile ('C. diff').

Your healthcare worker can give you more information about keeping your hands clean, including which handrubs conform to British Standards and the correct way to clean your hands.

Cleaning your hands using liquid soap and water

  • Wet your hands under lukewarm running water.

  • Apply liquid soap, making sure that it covers all the surfaces (including the back) of your hands.

  • Rub your hands together vigorously for at least 10 to 15 seconds, remembering your fingertips, thumbs and the areas between your fingers.

  • Rinse your hands thoroughly and dry them (for example with a clean hand towel, paper towels or kitchen roll).

Cleaning your hands using handrub

  • Hands should not be visibly dirty.

  • Make sure that the handrub covers all surfaces (including the back) of your hands.

  • Rub your hands together vigorously, remembering your fingertips, thumbs and the areas between your fingers.

  • Rub your hands together until they are dry.

Protective equipment

The types of protective clothes and other equipment that healthcare workers may use will depend on the risk of infection (to you and them).

Gloves

Healthcare workers must wear gloves if they have any contact with the inside of a patient's body (including their mouth) or with a wound. Gloves must also be worn if they are carrying out an activity that might lead to contact with blood or body fluids, or with sharps or contaminated instruments.

Healthcare workers must use gloves only once. They must put them on immediately before the activity, remove them as soon as it is completed and dispose of them according to the special rules for this. They must change gloves between different activities for the same patient, as well as between caring for different patients.

If a patient, carer or healthcare worker is sensitive to latex, then gloves of another suitable material must be made available.

Other protective equipment

Healthcare workers should wear a disposable plastic apron if blood or body fluids might splash onto their clothes, or a waterproof long-sleeved gown if there could be a lot of splashing onto skin or clothes. These items should be used once and disposed of correctly.

If there is a chance that blood or body fluids could splash into their face and eyes, the healthcare worker must also wear a face mask and eye protection.

Sharps

Anyone who uses sharps and related safety devices, including you and your carers, should be trained in both how to use them and how to dispose of them correctly into a sharps container.

Sharps should be handled as little as possible and should not be handed from one person to another. After being used they must be put straight into a special sharps container, and must not be bent, broken or have the cap put back on.

Sharps containers must be located in a safe place that is out of the reach of children. They must not be overfilled. Healthcare workers will advise you about the special rules for the storage and disposal of sharps containers.

Healthcare waste

Healthcare waste is any waste produced as a result of healthcare activities. Examples include dressings, sharps and catheters. Your healthcare worker will give you advice and information about the correct handling, storage and disposal of healthcare waste, because there are special rules about this.

Questions you and your carers might like to ask healthcare workers about preventing infection

  • What can I do to help minimise the risk of infection?

  • When should I clean my hands?

  • Please could you show me the correct method of cleaning hands?

  • When should soap and water be used rather than handrub?

  • What procedures are you following to prevent infection?

  • How should sharps be disposed of?

  • How can I tell whether I might have an infection?

  • When should I contact a healthcare professional if I think I have an infection?

  • Where can I get more information about infections?

  • Information Standard