Cleaning can make or break infection prevention - Charlotte Michels and Nicole Kiefte

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

By Service Management

Building a bridge between the worlds of cleaning, infection prevention and care is the aim of the Healthcare Cleaning Forum, which is being organised by Interclean Amsterdam and Clean Hospitals, on Thursday 12 May. After all, it is crucially important that these parties work together if you want to achieve optimal environmental hygiene in care institutions. This is the view of Charlotte Michels and Nicole Kiefte, who are both infection prevention experts and members of the VHIG professional association which is one of the official partners of the knowledge event.

Environmental hygiene in care institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes has, of course, always been important, even if it has not always been regarded as such. Charlotte believes it has become even more important since the emergence of highly resistant microorganisms such as MRSA and the coronavirus pandemic merely confirmed this view. "For a long time cleaning has been a somewhat neglected task in many care institutions. Happily this has changed over the past few years and more and more care institutions now understand how important it is to keep things properly clean. Infection prevention experts can also help raise awareness in this respect by emphasising how crucial proper cleaning is for the provision of high-quality care. And that cleaning should really be treated as a higher priority when setting budgets."

Stopping or spreading infection

If they do their work properly, cleaners can break the infection cycle of viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. "If an environment isn't hygienically clean, a microorganism can spread and cause new infections via materials or surfaces. It is crucial to prevent this by breaking the infection cycle. In this respect cleaners play a very important role."

However, it is also important that cleaners do their work accurately and properly because otherwise there is a chance that they will actually spread pathogens, rather than removing them, for example if they rush to polish a doorknob with a cloth they have just used in another patient's room. At first glance this may appear to be an innocuous action, but it can have disastrous consequences. It is a question of awareness and knowledge. As Charlotte adds, "Generally speaking cleaners really do pull out all the stops. But even if they have the best of intentions, if they don't do their job properly they can actually help to spread microorganisms. A great deal is expected of them and they have to be given the right tools. Unfortunately I often find out that they will have done a course some years ago, without this being followed up ever since, despite it being so important that cleaners have the right level of knowledge to enable them to do their work properly."

Cooperation with care providers

Cleaners and cleaning companies are not the only ones that need to take responsibility for environmental hygiene in care institutions. "For example, care providers and those actually involved in care activities also have an important role to play in maintaining hygiene standards. Although the environment might be clean, if someone providing care goes from one client to another without washing their hands, they'll still be spreading microorganisms", Nicole explains. "I also sometimes notice that the communication between cleaners and care staff is not up to scratch. As a result cleaners aren't always aware of what's going on within the department. It's important, of course, that they know about certain things, for example if there has been an outbreak somewhere."

Charlotte echoes that sentiment. "When on site I always ask both the cleaners and the care staff plenty of questions, for example who is responsible for cleaning the patient lifts and for cleaning the inside of the wardrobes? All too often both sides then start pointing fingers at each other, with the consequence being that neither job gets done."

Combining knowledge

In short, the cooperation between cleaning and care can be improved, as can the cooperation with infection prevention, the two of them explain. "On the one hand we can learn a great deal from the knowledge cleaning companies have with regard to the various cleaning methods, resources and materials. And on the other hand the companies could be more open to infection prevention theories", Charlotte clarifies. "It would be great if, for example, we could combine our know-how in order to find the best cleaning methods. We could also collaborate in the field of training to avoid a situation in which staff learn one way of doing things from one party and then suddenly have to do things completely differently later on. It actually takes twice as long to unlearn behaviour than to adopt it."

Discussions about developments

A large number of developments are taking place both in the cleaning sector and in the world of infection prevention. The two sides should engage in discussions with each other on this more frequently as well, Nicole adds. "What does a development that affects one of them, mean for the other? Take, for example, scrubber-drier robots. It's an excellent development for the cleaning sector. But if the water reservoir of those robots is never emptied, or if the brushes aren't cleaned, it will eventually become a pathogen spreader. That's why you have to reflect together on these kinds of developments and what they mean in practice."

"The most important thing is, of course, the result", Nicole concludes. And that's a hygienic care environment in which pathogenic microorganisms are unable to spread, so that patients and staff do not become infected. The cleaning companies, care staff and the infection prevention expert all play a key role in this respect. Although one cannot do without the other, they are currently not connecting as well as they could be. Perhaps they will reconnect at the Healthcare Cleaning Forum op Interclean Amsterdam.

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