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Interview with an Infection Control Nurse

The Other Side 6:


Interview with an Infection Control Nurse

Tracey Cooper, Consultant Nurse Infection Prevention at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust and Infection Control Nurses Association Editor, explains how the healthcare sales professional can help to clean up the NHS.

1. Please explain your clinical role and how it relates to your hospital’s overall infection control strategy.

The infection control nurse (ICN) role is wideranging and varies according to the healthcare setting and organisational needs. ICNs may work in acute hospital trusts, primary care trusts, mental health and learning disability trusts, home care or a combination of settings.

The role is primarily to act as an expert advisor on infection prevention and control matters in order to protect patients, staff and the public from infection risks. The range of activities incorporated under this broad statement is vast, and may include:

•Delivering an organisational strategy for infection prevention.
•Developing and implementing an annual programme.
•Providing education and training for staff, patients and the public.
•Providing advice on individual patient care and outbreak management.
•Practice development, including research, audit and surveillance.
•Selecting, evaluating and implementing infection control products.
•Developing, implementing and monitoring policy.

As Consultant Nurse Infection Prevention, I lead and co-ordinate infection control team work to support the clinical staff in reducing avoidable infection.

2. How can the healthcare industry support infection control in terms of the products it supplies and how it supplies them?

There are several ways that healthcare companies can support infection control practice in general, and infection control teams in particular:

•By ensuring that the company is aware of developments in infection prevention and control, and the views of key professionals working in the field. One way to do this is by joining the Infection Control Nurses Association as a corporate member.
•By developing infection control products that meet current and predicted needs.
•By providing credible and robust evidence of product effectiveness, in formats that can be understood by busy nurses and doctors as well as specialists.
•By ensuring that promotional material about the product is consistent with the evidence-base and is not ‘sensational’.
•By providing support for product trials and user evaluations, including adequate amounts of product and the support of company representatives during the trial.

3. How can representatives best support infection control in the way they arrange and carry out hospital calls?

It is important that the sales representative has a good understanding of the product, the evidence of its effectiveness and any presentation they plan to use prior to visiting.

This ensures that they can answer questions posed by the Infection Control Nurse or clinical colleagues in a manner that inspires confidence in the person and the product, and helps to develop effective partnership working.

ICNs tend to be very busy, and senior nurses in particular often have full diaries weeks ahead. Sometimes representatives telephone to ask for an appointment with just a few days’ notice, or phone repeatedly for earlier appointments. The most supportive approach is for representatives to book appointments in advance, to fit with the ICN’s diary. This approach helps to develop understanding and trust between the ICN and the representative, and makes it much more likely that the ICN will be prepared to see the representative in the future. Most infection control teams are represented at the annual ICNA conference each year, and the exhibition provides an ideal opportunity for ICNs to meet with companies in a less pressured setting.

Agreeing the approach that will be taken during visits to clinical areas is crucial, and companies who do this ensure that their work fits into the Trust strategy and is supportive of and supported by the ICN team. A flexible approach is necessary, and the most effective product implementation and follow- up programmes occur when the commercial support is included as a key part of the Trust programme. It is also important that representatives follow general good practice, such as hand hygiene, during visits to clinical areas, and that they report their progress to the ICN team.

4. In your experience, how aware of infection control issues do sales representatives tend to be?

In my experience, awareness is generally high and has been for some time, though understanding of the actual issues and underpinning evidence varies. The important thing is that sales representatives do not assume they know what the local problems are when they visit, but listen to local staff and then discuss whether their product may help to offer solutions. This approach helps to build an effective relationship between infection control teams and commercial suppliers.

5. The new Code of Practice for infection control calls for a change in the culture of the NHS. Is a change in the culture of the healthcare industry also needed?

All companies should have mechanisms in place to keep up to date with international developments in infection prevention, and to ensure that their representatives have a clear understanding of these issues. The healthcare industry should seek to work in partnership with infection prevention practitioners at local and national level, in order to understand the need for specific products and provide evidence and support to help ICNs and their colleagues use these products in practice.

Some companies do this incredibly well already, and often hold a leading position in the market as a result. Other companies should learn from these. Ultimately, effective partnership working between the healthcare industry and infection prevention practitioners benefits patient care and improves staff safety.

“The important thing is that sales representatives do not assume they know what the local problems are when they visit, but listen to local staff and then discuss whether their product may help to offer solutions.”

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