Protecting healthcare workers: preventing needlestick injuries

Protecting healthcare workers: preventing needlestick injuries
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In this article, Mölnlycke Health Care’s Medical Director John Timmons discusses the vital importance of protecting healthcare workers from needlestick injuries in the operating theatre and other care settings.

Each year, millions of surgeons and their teams risk exposure to life-threatening infections in order to give their patients the best possible care. This has never been so evident as it is today. The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated how healthcare staff are willing to put themselves on the frontline and put their own health at risk in order to care for others. They continue to work with dedication and selflessness despite the extreme pressure and extraordinary circumstances.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all healthcare professionals on behalf of Mölnlycke Health Care for their unwavering commitment to patient care throughout this crisis.

World Day for Decent Work

Today marks World Day for Decent Work, which highlights the importance of ensuring that workers across the globe are supported in the workplace, and feel they are in an environment in which they can safely carry out their roles. This year, World Day for Decent Work gives us the chance to reflect on what more we can do to protect healthcare professionals in their place of work, as health systems look to resume services following the peak of the pandemic. With 2020 being the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, this is an opportune moment to consider how we can work together to create safer working environments for nurses and other healthcare professionals across all care settings.

For healthcare staff, decent work means knowing that healthcare facilities are doing everything within their power to minimise the risk of harm. It means that policies are in place to prevent infection, and that all healthcare professionals are equipped with the best quality medical equipment to protect themselves from contracting blood-borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B.

Despite this, 95% of surgeons have a personal experience of needlestick injuries in the operating theatre.1 This sobering statistic illustrates that we still have some way to go to ensure operating theatre nurses and healthcare staff are properly protected at work. One of the best ways we can do this is through the provision of high-quality surgical gloves, which provide an essential barrier between the clinician and the patient and make the difference between routine surgery and a potential health risk. Gloves made from a lower-quality material are more likely to tear, thus putting healthcare staff at risk of exposure across the patient pathway: from surgeons carrying out the operation to nurses performing post-operative care, low-quality equipment presents a danger to all staff in healthcare settings.

Reducing chances of infection

Double-gloving is an extremely effective way to reduce the chance of infection in any procedure. A staggering 92% of glove punctures go unnoticed in the operating theatre,2 and double-gloving ensures that the barrier between the surgeon and the patient remains, even after glove failure has occurred. In fact, there is significant evidence to show the enhanced protective effects of double-gloving: a recent study by Bassett Medical Centre found that just one year after double-gloving was implemented, the rate of needlestick injuries dropped by 31%.3 This illustrates how a simple adjustment to procedure in the operating theatre can fundamentally reduce the risk for surgeons at work.

The provision of high-quality surgical gloves also gives healthcare staff the comfort of knowing they are safer from harm. I have seen how glove failure can result in significant anxiety among junior healthcare professionals: it affects their confidence, which in turn may have a knock-on effect on their ability to fulfil their role. Healthcare professionals deserve to go to work knowing that they are protected and having the right glove can make a significant difference in preventing the contraction of blood-borne viruses.
83% of surgeons agree that the quality of gloves affects their sense of being protected from needlestick injuries.4 This is unsurprising, given that the ramifications can be significant. I have seen colleagues forced to take time off work after their glove has torn or being put on post-exposure prophylaxis or antibiotic treatment following a viral infection. In some cases, healthcare professionals turn to psychological counselling for the anxiety that often stems from a needlestick injury.5 When the impact of glove failure is so huge, it is imperative that hospitals ensure their staff are equipped with the best quality equipment to carry out their work without fear of harm.

Working together

We all have a part to play in ensuring these working conditions are met for healthcare professionals. From occupational health services to hospital procurement, staff across healthcare settings all play a crucial role in building a safe and secure workplace. By investing in high-quality gloves, hospitals are not only investing in their healthcare professionals, but also making savings that can be reinvested elsewhere. The costs incurred from occupational health services following exposure to blood-borne viruses, as well as from the development of surgical site infections, have the potential to be deeply damaging to the finances of both hospitals and the wider health service.

The pandemic has put increased pressures on the healthcare system; on hospitals to deliver pre-COVID 19 levels of elective surgery, but also to operate under considerable financial strain, which is only set to grow in the coming months. By making adjustments to best-practice safety procedures such as double-gloving, as well as investing in high-quality gloves, hospitals can alleviate the pressures they face post-COVID, whilst simultaneously providing better levels of protection for their staff. After all they have done to protect us historically and specifically this year, the case for greater protection of healthcare workers has never been stronger.

References

  1. Survey conducted by SERMO. 510 actively practising UK, US, German, Swedish, Japanese and Australian surgeons responded to a survey on the importance of surgical gloves. April 2019
  2. Maffulli N, et al. 1991. Glove perforation in hand surgery. J Hand Surg. 16(6):1034-1037
  3. Nolan, R. 2020. Surgical Glove Best Practice using a Just Culture Model. AORN poster [on file]
  4. Survey conducted by SERMO. 510 actively practising UK, US, German, Swedish, Japanese and Australian surgeons responded to a survey on the importance of surgical gloves. April 2019
  5. NHS Employers. 2015. Managing the risks of sharps injuries. https://www.nhsemployers.org/-/media/Employers/Documents/Retain-and-improve/Health-and-wellbeing/Managing-the-risks-of-sharps-injuries-v7.pdf

John Timmons, Medical Director
Guest author
Mölnlycke Health Care

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