[Skip to content]

Search our Site
National Patient Safety Agency

NPSA supports Infection Control Week with UK-wide guidance

20 October 2008


This week (20 – 24th October) healthcare facilities in the NHS have been sent limited edition cards explaining the correct procedures that staff should follow when cleaning their hands.


The guidance has been produced in time for this year’s Infection Control Week, by the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA), NHS Scotland, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), and the Infection Prevention Society.


The guidance, which is the same size as a credit or business card, is the first time that the four home nations have collaborated on a UK-wide initiative on hand hygiene.


The card follows the NPSA’s latest patient safety alert, “Clean Hands Save Lives”, which was reissued in England and Wales last month. The card and alert recommend that healthcare staff should clean their hands before and after treating each patient within their immediate contact area, in order to prevent infections spreading.


It is an instant reminder to all healthcare staff to practice good hand hygiene at the point of care.


It also reminds staff about when they should use soap and water and when to use alcohol handrub. Although alcohol handrub kills infections such as MRSA and the common cold virus, the gel is ineffective against Clostridium difficile, Norovirus or other diarrhoea-related illnesses. In these instances, or if hands are visibly dirty or there has been any direct contact with bodily fluids, the NPSA advises that liquid soap and water must be used instead to prevent healthcare associated infections spreading from patient to patient, or to visitors.


Dr Kevin Cleary, Medical Director at the NPSA said:


“The hand hygiene card is designed to be an educational resource which we hope will remind healthcare staff of what they should already be doing when treating patients in hospital and community healthcare settings.


“The card supports our patient safety alert which we recently reissued to NHS healthcare staff in England and Wales, while also extending its scope across the UK, in partnership with other key infection control organisations. I urge infection healthcare staff across the NHS to pledge their support to Infection Control Week this year by promoting and following these messages”.


Martin Kiernan, President of the Infection Prevention Society said:


“We all know that hand hygiene is a key measure for the prevention and control of healthcare associated infections. Although we are making significant steps towards better hand hygiene, improvements with compliance will only continue and be sustained through the commitment, leadership and energy of senior clinicians, nurses and managers in the NHS.


“Infection control Week provides a perfect opportunity for collaboration, education and promotion across all disciplines and all clinical settings in the pursuit of embedding routine infection control excellence. We must continue to press home the message that effective hand hygiene is a vital patient safety issue, protecting the vulnerable whilst under our care”.




Notes for editors:


Media enquiries to Paul Cooney in the NPSA Press Office on 020 7927 9351 / paul.cooney@npsa.nhs.uk.


If you work for an NHS organisation and would like to request copies of the hand hygiene cards or obtain the artwork for local printing, email handhygiene@npsa.nhs.uk or click here.


The patient safety alert “Clean Hands Save Lives” is based on the first hand hygiene alert issued by the NPSA in September 2004 and is revised in line with the current best practice guidelines for 2008. It is the first in the “Worth Repeating” series which the NPSA has introduced to raise awareness of important patient safety incidents.


Infection Control Week (20th – 24th October 2008) is an event held every year to educate staff and highlight the work undertaken in local hospitals and community healthcare settings to keep patients and clients safe and free from healthcare associated infections.


The NPSA demonstrates the point of care message using the World Health Organisation’s “Five Moments for Hand Hygiene”, which is the internationally recognised best practice. It advises that healthcare staff must clean their hands:

  1. Before contact with the patient
  2. Before performing an aseptic task
  3. After the healthcare worker has been exposed to body fluid
  4. After contact with the patient
  5. After contact with the patient’s surroundings.


From 1 November 2003 of 15 July 2008, the NPSA’s Reporting and Learning System (NRLS) received 379 reports of patient safety incidents involving alcohol handrub in NHS trusts in England and Wales. Of these the majority were reported as low or no harm. The RLS is designed for confidential reporting of patient safety errors and systems failures by health professionals across England and Wales. The confidential data is analysed by the NPSA to identify national patient safety trends and priorities, and to develop practical solutions. The aim is to help the NHS to learn from things that go wrong.


In July 2008 the cleanyourhands campaign released a guidance DVD to all NHS trusts in England and Wales, demonstrating the correct procedures for hand hygiene.


The NPSA-run cleanyourhands campaign aims to improve the hand hygiene of healthcare workers and helps the NHS tackle healthcare associated infections. Since its launch in 2004, the campaign has been adopted by all NHS acute trusts in England and Wales. In July the campaign was extended to primary care, mental health, ambulance and care trusts.


The National Patient Safety Agency encompasses the National Research Ethics Service, National Reporting and Learning Service and the National Clinical Assessment Service. Our vision is to lead and contribute to improved, safe patient care by informing, supporting and influencing healthcare individuals and organisations. Each division works within its sphere of expertise to improve patient outcomes.