Over the past 18 months, NHS and social care organisations have learnt a great deal about IPC, finding creative ways to transform what was traditionally a rigid, tick box exercise into an agile, strategic contributor to effective Quality Assurance. Here are five take-aways from recent events:
IPC is not just about COVID-19; it applies equally to influenza, norovirus and Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV to name three issues we may face this winter. With the traditionally challenging cold season approaching, here are 7 tips how healthcare leaders can improve IPC:
Begin by explaining why auditing is important and why it should be done so frequently. Above all, aim for honest audits that demonstrate a clear path to improvement. Encourage staff to take ownership of their audits, beyond COVID, without being asked.
Question traditional IPC thinking by tackling priority tasks more frequently, in the most critical wards. What are the biggest risk factors? If supply issues threaten the widespread availability of key IPC items, does it really matter if alcohol sanitiser is decanted into smaller containers or plastic aprons arrive by the roll or in a box? Sometimes, it is better to try something new than do nothing at all, provided the right precautions are taken to minimise harm to patients, staff and visitors.
One of Perfect Ward’s customers, Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (WUTH) advocates keeping ‘compassion for each other as well as patients and their families’. Develop a time-out plan with tactics to overcome stress and fatigue such as regular water rounds to keep staff hydrated, chill-out zones for frequent breaks away from hectic wards and dedicated roaming staff who update frontline staff on the latest changes while gaining feedback and tips that other areas can use.
Show staff you care then empower them to think flexibly
Ask yourself, ‘Are our current processes still relevant or are there better ways to make patients safe?’ Let staff use their initiative, working closely with colleagues to try out new ideas then trust them to deliver.
This is especially important with the recent introduction of Integrated Care Systems or ICS, new partnerships that aim to provide joined up care.[i] Now is the perfect opportunity for everyone to define a standardised way of looking at patient safety. Success starts with allowing people to go beyond the natural boundaries of their individual roles or Trusts to enable cross-learning. What better place to start than a consolidated vision for IPC?
That’s exactly what WUTH did to maximise the vast amount of information provided by Public Health England. Their multi-disciplinary Clinical Advisory Group agreed how to apply emerging PHE guidance locally and then cascade that information quickly and widely via newsletters, posters, crib sheets and reminders for ward managers. The group’s work has become an excellent case study, recently published in the BMJ, about the importance of good communication and collaboration in managing a health crisis.[i]
Staff shortages are a constant challenge so it pays to cast the net widely rather than recruit people with a solid IPC track record. Even if candidates are from entirely different industries, focusing on what people can do rather than what they cannot do will help build multi-disciplinary teams with fresh ideas and experience. Once onboard, give staff the chance to work in different roles to improve their knowledge and advance their careers.
During the pandemic, data and automation really came into their own. How else could organisations give NHS England accurate, daily information about COVID without technology? The latest digital quality improvement and safety solutions make light work of auditing while giving senior managers the hard evidence they need to monitor and drive continual improvements to patient safety.