Infection control in care homes is key to keeping residents and staff safe and happy.

Outbreaks of a disease can be unpleasant for all, but for the most vulnerable, they can be life-threatening.

Whilst infection control has always been of paramount importance in care homes in the UK, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made it even more vital.

Although all age groups are at risk of developing Covid-19, older people face a substantial risk of severe illness if they contract the disease.

This due to physiological changes that occur with ageing, as well as increased risk from underlying health conditions.

Preventing the transmission of Covid-19

For people living and working in care homes, infection outbreaks can be serious and sometimes even fatal.

They can also make other existing conditions worse. What’s more is that because residents and staff are often in close proximity in a shared living space, infection can be passed around easily.

For this reason, it’s vital to take steps to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in care homes.

The government has created new guidance for care homes, helping staff to employ a higher standard of infection control and reduce the transmission of this highly contagious coronavirus.

Covid-19 care home standards have also become increasingly rigorous as the pandemic has progressed.

Isolation and testing of residents

Current guidance issued by the government states that all care home residents who are discharged from hospital or admitted from within the community should be isolated in their rooms for a period of 14 days.

If a care home resident goes to a hospital for any reason, they must be tested for Covid-19 before they’re discharged.

They should isolate upon their return to the care home until the result of the test is known.

Testing and tracing has become a crucial element of the UK’s Covid-19 response and as a result it’s important for care homes to keep clear records of existing and previous residents, as well as staff and visitors.

Handwashing and hand hygiene

Whilst frequent handwashing has always been an important aspect of infection control in care homes, it’s become even more critical during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Washing hands thoroughly and frequently can help control the spread of the virus in care homes.

This is because, like other respiratory illnesses, Covid-19 is largely spread via infected droplets produced by coughs or sneezes and by hands which touch surfaces or other people.

Washing hands with soap can kill the virus and prevent its spread. 

An alcohol-based sanitizer should be used if water and soap aren’t available. Hand sanitiser should be readily available for staff to use near to where care is provided.

Government guidance states that anyone moving in and out of care home areas where care for suspected or confirmed cases of the virus is delivered should disinfect their hands using an alcohol-based rub.

Hand hygiene must always be carried out before caring for residents, as well as prior to touching care equipment such as PPE.

‘Catch it, bin it, kill it’

Cough hygiene is another important consideration for infection prevention and control in health and social care.

Coughing and sneezing can rarely be avoided, but it’s important to take steps to reduce potential viruses which can become airborne.

We know that viruses, including Covid-19, can spread from person-to-person when a carrier coughs or sneezes.

Droplets are produced that reach another person’s mouth, nose, or eyes. Plus, because the respiratory droplets don’t remain airborne due to being too heavy, they tend to land on surfaces and objects which surround the affected person.

To lower the risk of Covid-19 and other viruses being spread by coughs and sneezes, tissues and waste bins should be readily available to everyone.

Residents, staff, and visitors should be encouraged to use tissues to cover their mouth and nose.

Tissues should be disposed of straight away in the bin and people should clean their hands thoroughly afterwards.

The use of PPE

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is essential for care home workers, with the Covid-19 pandemic shining a light on just how vital it is for infection prevention and control in health and social care.

The government recommends staff in care homes wear PPE even if none of its residents has symptoms. Recommended PPE for care homes includes gloves, aprons, surgical masks, and eye protection.

Different types of PPE are required for different circumstances. PPE used for infection control in care homes should be compliant with the relevant BS/EN standards. 

It should also be placed near to where it’ll be used and stored correctly in order to prevent contamination.

PPE has become crucial in care homes since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

Due to the sustained transmission of the virus across the UK, the government has updated its guidance on the subject, recommending that surgical masks in particular are worn by staff in all areas of care homes to help reduce the spread of infection.

Visitors to care homes

Receiving visitors has always been an important part of care home life; vital for the mental health and wellbeing of residents.

However, the spread of Covid-19 and the need for even greater infection control in care homes has meant that social contact from friends and family has been limited.

The most recent government-issued guidance recognises the importance of maintaining some visiting opportunities for residents.

For the national lockdown which began on 5 November 2020, the guidance says that care homes can continue to allow limited visits as long as precautions are taken.

Care homes should set up a visiting policy, including details about how infection risk will be minimised. Details of the policy must be communicated clearly to all visitors. 

Importantly, in the event of an outbreak of illness in a care home, visitation should be ceased immediately. The only exception is in circumstances including end of life.

Infection Control in Care Homes: Conclusion

Covid-19 care home standards are strict, with all settings striving to adhere to the thorough guidance issued by the government. 

Infection prevention and control in health and social care are taken more seriously than ever before, with staff learning much about how to manage both the spread of the virus and the illness itself.

The government-issued rules must be strictly followed to ensure that staff and residents are protected from the virus at all times.

This article was originally published by uRoster.