Protect the environment by reducing the unnecessary use of gloves, nurses urged – Advice Eating

The Royal College of Nursing is urging nurses to do their part to protect the environment by ‘making a change’ and reducing unnecessary use of gloves.

The college’s annual Glove Awareness Week runs May 2-9 this year, coinciding with World Hand Hygiene Day on May 5.

This year’s campaign aims to convey that hand hygiene is a highly effective way of protecting against viruses, including Covid-19, and that by making just one change to reduce glove use, caregivers can benefit patients, their own hands and the environment.

Rose Gallagher, RCN’s professional director of infection prevention and control, spoke care times before the campaign.

“This year we are using the same very successful message as last year. We’re asking people to make a change,” she said.

For example, a nursing home nurse might decide not to wear gloves for the drink round or to assist someone with mobilization.

In a hospital, this could mean pausing before direct contact with a patient and thinking, “Do I really need to wear a pair of gloves?” or not wearing gloves during routine vaccinations.

“Hand hygiene is absolutely safe. With this one small change, we’re asking people to really support us to make that difference,” said Ms Gallagher.

Mrs. Gallagher tells care times that glove use in the NHS has reached new highs in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rose Gallagher

“In the last two years we’ve used nearly 12 billion gloves, which is a huge number,” she said.

This increased use is the result of advising medical workers to protect themselves from infection, but says Ms Gallagher it is often taken too far.

“I’m not saying that the instructions are wrong per se, but we do know that there are many occasions when gloves are worn when they aren’t necessary. Hand hygiene is very safe and a very effective way to protect patients and staff,” she said.

Ms Gallagher explained that there is a “triple set” of negative effects from overuse of gloves.

First, and somewhat counterintuitively, wearing gloves too often can actually increase your risk of spreading infection. This is because wearing gloves means people wash their hands and use hand sanitizer less frequently.

“People put on a pair of gloves and because they feel protected, they tend to forget to wash their hands when hand hygiene is indicated,” explained Ms Gallagher.

“That means you end up spreading pathogens or germs when you would normally interrupt that transmission by washing your hands.”

The second negative effect affects the hands of employees who wear gloves for a long time. Prolonged wearing of gloves can cause the skin of the hands to become overmoistened, leading to pain and even occupational dermatitis.

“We know it’s a big problem in the NHS,” Ms Gallagher said. “There’s a lot of sore hands out there right now because nurses are washing their hands so often, using hand sanitizer so often and wearing gloves most of the time.”

The third negative impact that excessive glove use has is on the environment. Wearing gloves more often contributes to climate change through carbon emissions from manufacturing and transport, and also means more plastic ends up in landfills and pollutes the world’s water systems.

Mrs. Gallagher tells care times that the environmental impact of using gloves had really resonated with caregivers.

“They are very, very aware of the massive amounts of waste that comes from using single-use items,” she said.

Although there is a significant step towards developing more reusable PPE items – like FFP3 masks – to address the environmental impact of single-use plastics in healthcare, there are currently no sustainable alternatives to single-use gloves. Reducing their consumption is the only way to reduce their environmental impact.

“The biggest contribution we can make from a sustainability perspective is that we really have to be careful that we only wear gloves when we need to,” Ms Gallagher said.

“Safely reducing the use of gloves where we can is the best way nurses can make this contribution to more sustainable gloves.”

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