Time for a united approach on safe water delivery

As we live through the coronavirus pandemic, it’s become startlingly clear how important a united approach to infection control is key at every level – from legislation to best practice. Three years ago (HEJ – August and November 2017), Bristan commissioned a white paper, ‘Your Views: Infection Control for Water Delivery’. In this article, Bristan specification product manager, Chris Tranter, revisits the report’s key findings, and reflects on the fundamental, yet unresolved, issues it raises.

In an industry first, Bristan called in 2017 on Health Estate Journal readers to share their views on the healthcare industry’s approach to waterborne infection control. What the survey produced was market- leading insights into industry opinion that have stood the test of time.

The need for effective infection control processes and equipment has been long debated in the healthcare sector, yet progress remains slow. It was only in early 2019 – a mere 12 months before COVID-19 arrived on our doorstep – that NHS England and NHS Improvement issued a definitive guide to hand hygiene and PPE to provide uniformity across healthcare settings. While other areas may have advanced, the issue of waterborne infection control continues to slip under the radar.

Legionnaires’ disease – caused by the waterborne bacterium, Legionella – has seen a huge rise in recent years, with a 64% increase in cases in just two years. Despite the ever-present threat of waterborne diseases, the healthcare sector is yet to provide a definitive guide or approach to them. Healthcare and healthcare engineering professionals often have to make their own decisions based on a myriad of guidance documents, uncertain research, and even contradictory advice within the industry. Even more alarmingly, very little research has been conducted into the rationale and effectiveness of the local policies in place. After over 40 years of supplying bathroom products to the healthcare industry, it’s become clear to Bristan that key stakeholders within the sphere of infection control for water delivery have very different ideas in terms of their strategies and preferences. As a supplier, Bristan’s approach has always been to remain flexible, and to create products that meet both legislative and local demands. However, the COVID-19 crisis has illuminated that following the same guidelines is the most effective way to create a safer, healthier environment for all. This is why the need for action is now, but how can Bristan’s white paper report help?

Bristan says that ‘as we live through the coronavirus pandemic, a united approach to infection control is vital at every level – from legislation to best practice’.

Building a true picture

The only way to provide an accurate and honest snapshot of the current state of waterborne infection control is to listen to those that matter. Our definition of ‘key players’ was deconstructed for this report – listening to the views of not only those ‘at the top of the food chain’, but those on the frontline too. Thanks to the contributions of HEJ readers, we were able to gather opinions from those in a variety of health and estate roles in both the private and public sectors, such as facilities managers, specifiers, maintenance professionals, engineers, and administrative professionals. With over 200 respondents, we were able to capture what the state of play is within different facets of the healthcare domain and depict a more complete picture. The report touches upon a variety of contentious topics surrounding infection control for water delivery, including: how it is being conducted across the board, how effective it is, and how those professionals working on the ground view the resources and guidance available to them. While the findings may not conclusively settle any technical debates, they do

provide a body of knowledge from which we can ascertain the most urgent needs of those working with infection control for water delivery. In addition, the report aims to highlight some of the most prominent schools of thought currently influencing infection control policies in the UK.

The ‘designated gatekeeper’ A key issue within the report is how the ‘designated gatekeeper’ – the person responsible for implementing risk assessments, strategies, policies, and product specification – is chosen for the role. Currently, the professional must qualify as a ‘competent person’ to enter this role, but how do we define that? According to the HSE, ‘A competent person is one who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge to do the required job. This will include an understanding of relevant statutory requirements and an appreciation of the hazards involved. The person appointed does not have to be employed by the employer, but does need to know all the factors arising from the employer’s work that may affect health and safety’. While the HSE’s definition appears

February 2021 Health Estate Journal 57

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