Last updated: April 2020
Next review: April 2022
Leaflet: Hand hygiene
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Last updated: April 2020
Most infections that can be passed from person to person on people’s hands either directly, from one person to another, or indirectly via contact with surfaces such as door handles.
Thorough hand cleaning is the most important thing we can all do to stop infections being spread.
Everyone should clean their hands:
- Before and after changing a wound dressing or touching any medical equipment
- After using the toilet, or helping other people to use the toilet
- After changing nappies
- After any contact with blood, vomit, urine, saliva and faeces
- Before eating, preparing or serving food or before helping other people to eat
- After touching animals
- After gardening or other activities that make hands dirty
- After cleaning activities
- After dealing with dirty laundry
- After using tissues to blow noses or to cover the nose or mouth when sneezing or coughing
- After coughing or sneezing into hands
- Before and after visiting people on hospital
- Before and after using shared keyboards and IT equipment
- Before putting in eye drops or putting in or taking out contact lenses
Extra care should be taken:
- Before and after dealing with catheters and other medical equipment or dressing wounds
- Before applying lotions and creams to damaged skin
- After handling samples of urine or faeces
If you are asked to look after a wound or medical equipment yourself or because you are someone’s carer please ask the healthcare worker to talk to you in more detail about hand hygiene.
What Healthcare staff should do?
Our healthcare staff will always clean their hands at the right times when they are looking after patients, they may use soap and water or they may use alcohol hand gel.
Staff providing treatment for patients will always clean their hands directly before touching a patient and after touching a patient before they do anything else.
Staff may need to clean their hands at other times during a treatment to prevent moving bugs from a place where they can’t cause harm to a place where they might do so.
For example a nurse may need to clean their hands again after removing a dirty dressing and before applying a clean one, or before inserting a catheter or medical device.
Staff providing treatment will always be “bare below the elbows”. That means they do not wear any hand or wrist jewellery or watches, wear false nails or nail varnish (a plain wedding band is allowed) and their uniforms or clothes should not cover any area below the elbows. This makes it easier for them to clean their hands and wrist properly.
What to use?
Hands should be cleaned using soap and water or using Alcohol hand gel.
Alcohol hand gel is widely available. It is useful because it is very good at killing lots of bugs, including those that cause common illnesses like colds and flu and those that cause many wound infections.
Alcohol hand gel only works well on hands which are already clean. It does not work well on hands which are actually dirty or have bodily fluids such as blood or vomit on them. Also, it does not kill some bugs which can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.
So, it is best to use soap and water if you can after going to the toilet or when people have tummy bugs.
If there is no soap and water available, it is always better to use alcohol hand gel than nothing at all.
Alcohol hand gel should not be eaten or drunk as it is poisonous.
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