The healthcare hand hygiene balance

Liam Mynes, from Tork manufacturer Essity, looks at the delicate balancing act between fast and efficient hand cleansing and effective hygiene for our NHS heroes.

The advice is crystal clear. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, every health website links back to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ‘5 Moments for Hand Hygiene’ which clearly stipulate when and how healthcare staff should wash and dry their hands.

According to the WHO, staff should wash their hands before touching a patient, before carrying out any aseptic procedure and after exposure to body fluids. Hand washing should also be carried out after touching a patient or after coming into contact with a patient’s surroundings.

The WHO stipulates that the whole process – from hand washing to thorough drying – should take between 40 and 60 seconds. In cases where the hands are not visibly soiled, the WHO advocates hand sanitising instead, a process that should take 20-30 seconds.

But when healthcare staff are working long shifts in busy wards filled with COVID-19 patients, they may well find it a challenge to wash or sanitise their hands for the required length of time.

Even before the current crisis began, NHS staff reported experiencing concern about the day-to-day pressures of the job. A 2019 survey revealed that only 28% of nurses felt there were sufficient numbers of employees in their organisation to allow them to do their job properly.

Only 16% said they had rarely or never experienced unrealistic time pressures at work, and the need to wash or sanitise the hands frequently for up to 60 seconds at a time can only add to those time pressures. So, is there any way of speeding up the process?

Ensuring that the right products are in the right place at the right time will significantly improve hand hygiene efficiency. Hand washing and sanitising stations should therefore be freely available, easy to spot and kept well stocked at all times.

Dispensers for soap, sanitiser and hand towels should also be easy to refill and use. Systems such as the Tork Foam Soap Dispenser work well for hand washing in healthcare since the unit has been designed to require low hand-strength.

Each refill houses 2500 shots of soap – more than twice the amount of an average liquid soap dispenser – which means the dispenser is less likely to run out when a hand wash is urgently needed. The refill cartridge can be clicked into place within seconds.

Thorough drying is vital in healthcare since damp hands transmit more than double the amount of bacteria as dry


hands. The WHO recommends the use of paper towels as a hygienic and efficient hand drying method.

However, the choice of hand towel system will have a significant impact on hand drying efficiency. A low capacity dispenser for folded towels will run out too quickly, forcing the staff member to waste valuable seconds trying to locate a towel elsewhere. And low- quality towels will be ineffective at drying the hands thoroughly, which means that two or more may be required to complete the job. Not only will this prolong the process, it will also have a significant impact on costs.

“The WHO recommends the

use of paper towels as a hygienic and

efficient hand drying method.”

Softer, highly absorbent towels will dry the hands more effectively by blotting away the water. If the dispenser also gives out towels one at a time, this will prevent over- consumption and reduce the risk of frequent run-outs.

The Tork Xpress Extra Soft Multifold Hand Towel is particularly suitable for healthcare facilities where frequent hand washing needs to take place, such as in intensive care units. Another good solution is the Tork PeakServe Continuous Hand Towel because this combines a high level of hygiene with high delivery speeds. The dispenser gives out a towel in just three seconds while the continuous delivery system means it will never jam, and each user only touches the towel they use for optimum hygiene.

Frequent hand washing or sanitising can cause skin damage – particularly for people who already suffer from conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. The use of soap or sanitiser could strip away the proteins in the epidermis which could compromise the skin barrier and increase the risk of infections.


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