Clean hands can save lives


Red raw hands and dry, cracked skin are common among nurses who are constantly washing their hands. But hygiene doesn’t have to mean horrible hands if you use the right products and techniques.

It’s such a simple act but hand washing is the single most important thing you can do to help prevent infections in your patients.
Toni Schouten, a CNC in infection control at RPAH, spends a lot of time underlining the importance of hand washing. ‘Washing your hands is the utmost important thing you can do for infection control, especially for multi-resistant organisms,’ she said.

‘While some bugs may be resistant to all but the most powerful antibiotics, they can still be rinsed away by a simple wash and scrub.’
Even so, for every million hospital procedures, 20,000 will result in an infection, according to NSW Health figures. Infection control nurses like Toni and NSW Health would like to see this infection rate reduced, and will be starting a campaign in January to promote the importance of washing your hands.

But nurses who are run off their feet, or who have very dry hands, may find it difficult to face another round of scrubbing in the basin. ‘Some staff have poor hand integrity and are worried hand washing could compromise the skin condition on their hands,’ said Toni. ‘So we are looking at ways to keep them washing their hands but also help them maintain their skin.’

One way to clean your hands on the run is to use an alcohol gel. You can rub a small amount of the gel on your hands without using water while you move through the wards, and the gel also contains emollients so your hands stay supple.

Toni emphasises the importance of keeping your hands healthy as well as clean. After all, for nurses hands are a very important tool. Maintaining the health of your hands means you may need to pay more attention to them and make sure you moisturise after every wash.

If you’re worried about your hands, you can also benefit from looking after them on days off. Invest in a good moisturiser to use at home.

If you have very dry and cracked skin on your hands, Toni recommends visiting the infection control professional at your facility, who may be able to recommend special products or techniques that can help restore your hands. ‘There are definite techniques on how to wash properly,’ says Toni.

Most importantly, you should keep washing your hands, and encourage your colleagues to do so. ‘It’s a very basic thing to do but it’s very, very important,’ said Toni. ‘It’s something that really can save lives.’

How to wash your hands

In a lather about the best way to wash your hands? Try this technique:

  1. Wet your hands first.
  2. Apply a small amount of product to your wet hands. Just one pump is all you need – apply too much and you’ll be washing your hands for longer, which can make them drier in the long run.
  3. Work up a lather and go over the front of your hands, your palms, fingers, thumbs, in between the fingers, the backs of your hands and your wrists.
  4. Thoroughly rinse your hands to remove all traces of product. When you think you’re finished, rub your hands together to make sure no lather comes up. If lather appears, continue rinsing.
  5. Gently pat your hands dry with a paper towel. Don’t rub the paper on your hands because it could irritate the skin.
  6. Don’t wear too much jewellery. If you’re wearing a wedding band, make sure you wash and dry underneath.
  7. Try not to contaminate your hands by touching the sink.
  8. When your hands are completely dry, make sure you apply moisturiser. Remember, it’s important to keep your skin healthy as well as clean.
  9. If you feel regular washing is making your hands too dry, apply moisturiser throughout the day, and also when you are at home. Speak to your infection control professional for tips on the right products to use.