Clare Humphrey, category manager at the Professional division of Miele
Managing infection control has never been so vital in care homes as it is today. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant care homes have to take extra precautions to minimise the risk of infection and protect vulnerable residents against potentially fatal illnesses. This can be a challenge for care homes that have to deal with a multitude of complex issues on top of patient care. Clear guidelines on best practice procedures enables staff to maintain high standards of hygiene while managing the busy day to day tasks of running a care home. It is crucial for all care homes to include the following factors and regulations when introducing or revising infection control plans for laundry:
Infection control laundry measures
Hand hygiene: Staff and visitors should regularly wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with anti-bacterial soap toprevent harmful germs or microorganisms from being transferred to other people, equipment or surfaces.There should be clear instructions that state when handwashing should take place during the laundry process, for example, after handling soiled washing or after ‘hands-on’ contact with a resident.
Personal protection: Employees should use latex gloves and an apron when loading soiled laundry into the washing machine. These should be removed and disposed of at the end of the task, to avoid contaminating clean laundry or any other areas of the care home.
Decontaminating soiled laundry: Care homes should use a sluice sink to remove as much residue as possible from soiled materials before being laundered. Once the washing is complete, laundry operators need to make sure clean items aren’t re-contaminated by soiled ones. Specialist commercial laundry equipment, as listed below can prevent cross-contamination. Soiled items should be washed at 71⁰C for at least three minutes or 65⁰C for at least ten minutes.
Fully briefed staff: Staff should be fully and thoroughly briefed on the correct laundry procedures in a face to face setting. This should inform staff on how to maintain high standards of hygiene, as well as keeping them up to date with any new industry regulations. In cases of high staff turnover, managers should keep up to date with new recruits who may be involved with laundry operations.
‘Catch it, bin it, kill it’: While doing the laundry and any other activities within the care home, staff should use single-use tissues to cover the nose and mouth when sneezing, coughing, wiping or blowing their nose. Tissues should be disposed of properly in the nearest lined and foot operated waste bins.
Laundry guidelines and regulation
There are strict laundry procedures that care homes must abide by, these should be incorporated into an infection control plan. The Department of Health’s ‘Health Technical Memorandum 01-04 (HTM 01-04)’ sets out guidelines that care home managers should follow. It is compulsory for care homes to ensure that bed linen is thermally disinfected using washing cycles that reach and hold at: 65⁰C for at least 10 minutes, 71⁰C for at least three minutes or 85⁰C for one minute.
When choosing a washing machine for a care home OPL, it must comply with WRAS (Water Regulations Advisory Scheme) category five. This is due to exposure to bodily fluids that present serious health hazards. Abiding by this regulation will prevent the main water supply from being contaminated with these substances.
Recommended laundry appliances
Sluice washers help prevent the spread of infection through specific sluice wash programmes, freeing potentially harmful substances from laundry and flushing it away prior to the main washing cycle. The washer thoroughly disinfects and cleanses laundry items such as bed linen, towels and clothing, minimising infection risk by adding an extra layer to the disinfection process.
Care homes should also consider barrier washers. These machines are accessed by two separate rooms, preventing cross contamination with a separated ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ side. Laundry workers are able to place soiled items in the ‘dirty’ side and decontaminate themselves (removing protective equipment and washing hands), before leaving the room. Once the cycle is finished it can be retrieved from the ‘clean’ side in the opposite room, preventing recontamination in washed items.