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Microfibre revolution?

Microfibre sweeps all before it, but takes 16 months to get going – an outlook from the AHCP.

Healthcare and hospital hygiene has undergone a period of great change – some would say revolution – during the past five years. More than anything, this process has been driven by the challenges of healthcare acquired infections (HCAIs). Drug resistant bacteria and pathogens have the potential to spread rapidly in poorly designed, maintained or cleaned hospitals, leading to acute health problems.

That this development has taken place at a time when healthcare administrators worldwide are under pressure to contain the increasing cost of healthcare has added to the challenges.

In the opinion of Association of Healthcare Cleaning Professionals (AHCP) members, one product in particular has had a greater impact on improving hospital hygiene than any other – microfibre. In recent survey on the AHCP website, 65% of respondents felt that microfibre had made the greatest contribution to improving healthcare hygiene in the last five years.

This finding is remarkable considering that there have been a number of important innovations in the period. Apart from product innovations, AHCP members also cited the importance of improvements in training, the development of improved standards and the introduction of Healthcare IT systems to replace manual monitoring and recording.

All these have an important role in improving healthcare cleaning. But AHCP members were emphatic in their view that microfibre flat mopping and cloths have delivered the greatest improvements to hygiene compared to conventional cleaning materials and methods. Of key importance is the ability of microfibre to

capture and remove dirt and micro-organisms through a combination of static attraction and capillary action. This gives microfibre its effectiveness and reduces the risk of infection and cross contamination. Microfibre also has an exceptional ability to absorb oils, fat and grease and does not scratch surfaces such as paintwork, making it easier for staff to use.

The survey showed that environmental concerns are a high priority for AHCP members. Microfibre scores highly here too, as it uses no cleaning chemicals and reduces water consumption significantly. It also leaves no residue and holds up to seven times its weight in water, leaving floors drier. Staff welfare scores well with microfibre too, as there are no wringer buckets hanging around full of dirty water and it involves less lifting and bending, resulting in fewer slips, trips and falls.

Despite these advantages the process of change required to introduce healthcare cleaning innovations including microfibre is not fast. On average, AHCP members report that it takes 16 months from the time they first become aware of a new product to full scale roll out. Most NHS hospitals take about a year to implement new technology and processes, but in minority of cases it takes as long as three years.

The main factors affecting the speed of implementation are cost (35%), followed by the need to provide training (17%) and to change entrenched working practices and win over staff (14%). The need to change trust policy accounted for delays in around 10% of implementations while public and other stakeholder resistance was a factor in 9% of cases.

On a practical note, the tendering and product selection process accounted for delays in 11% of implementations. The NHS is sometimes criticised for delays in implementing new products and technologies but the experience of AHCP members does not necessarily bear this out. Moreover, several members highlight the fact that there are hidden costs to implementation which may not come to light if the implementation process is too short. In the case of microfibre, many trusts had to set up laundering capabilities, which were not initially factored into the cost estimates.

This highlights another problem for cleaning managers: the need to balance capital with operating cost requirements. Microfibre is seen as being expensive, but with proper laundering it can result in lower overall product usage and greater economy.

The experience of the microfibre revolution is one which heathcare cleaning professionals can learn from. Part of this is about the need to re-examine traditional concepts and ideas – that the only way to get and keep a ward clean is to use large amounts of hot water and chemicals – and look at the scientific evidence. In addition it shows the importance of good management processes and the need for managers to have control over both capital and operating budgets to achieve the greatest efficiencies.

The NHS is facing big changes over the next five years and the rate of product innovation is not likely to reduce. All this means that healthcare cleaning professionals need to stay on top of their game.

The future of our cleaning industry | TOMORROW’S CLEANING | 57 HEALTHCARE & HOSPITAL HYGIENE

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