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How can nurses become better needlestick injury advocates?

April 21, 2015

Research has suggested that having positive role models in the workplace can have a real impact on the practices that students and less-experienced healthcare workers carry out. 

A study published in the American Journal of Infection Control found that 100 per cent of student nurses surveyed witnessed lapses in infection prevention and control (IPC) practices during their clinical placements.

This is directly linked to sharps safety and reducing needlestick injuries among staff members in hospitals but also indicates that some may be picking up bad habits or that training is lacking for qualified professionals, which is concerning for all areas of medicine.

Training around IPC is one of the core areas of nursing studies, but there is still little known about the experience of nurses once they enter the clinical setting and how the practices of others, especially more senior members of staff, affect them.

An anonymous online study from Cardiff University and City University London sought to find out how nursing students in the UK are exposed to lapses in IPC during their time in clinical settings. 

The 19-question survey was completed by 488 students and every participant reported seeing at least one instance of non-compliance. The most commonly observed failures concerned hand hygiene, and more than 75 per cent saw healthcare workers fail to clean hands between patients. Some 60 per cent saw staff wearing nail polish or nail extensions. 

More than half of survey respondents saw staff failing to adhere to isolation precautions, inadequate cleaning of the patient environment, not changing personal protective clothing between patients, or poor handling of sharp instruments.

However, physicians were the most commonly complained about in terms of their IPC compliance, especially with the disposal and handling of medical sharps and failure to use sterile techniques during insertion of medical devices. 

“Overall, the findings support the conclusions of earlier researchers who explored experiences of IPC in the clinical setting,” state the authors. “Qualified staff provided poor role models for student nurses. The findings of this study indicate the need for better role models for student nurses.”

The study suggests that qualified professionals have a lot of responsibility when it comes to influencing the practices of less-experienced students. Nurses could be ideally placed to address this issue as they are some of the staff most likely to use sharps and medical instruments.

For hospitals, this means that encouraging nurses to become advocates for sharps safety could be an efficient way of ensuring that newly qualified professionals are adhering to the best practices, and reducing their risk of suffering a needlestick injury. 

But how can you encourage this advocacy among your nursing professionals?

- Regular training that is aimed towards their role helps them to see the benefits of sharps safety for themselves as well as for patient care. 
- Conduct risk assessments so information is clearly accessible for any staff members.
- Encourage more experienced professionals to feel responsible for students who have recently joined. This can be achieved through reward schemes or buddy schemes.

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