Single use plastic gloves are a vital part of healthcare PPE, with their usage increasing since Covid-19, but it’s time to take a step back and evaluate if this is going in the right direction. According to the Nursing Times, over 12 billion plastic gloves have been used over the past two years. It’s important to take the environment into consideration here as the BMJ states “every box of 100 gloves is equivalent to driving 20 miles in a standard petrol car.” There’s no escaping that gloves are integral for healthcare professionals and must be changed per patient, but in turn the effect this is having on our planet must also be considered. So how can this be changed? Simple steps can be taken to reduce unnecessary usage whilst maintaining a high standard of hygiene.
Why are gloves necessary in the healthcare sector?
First, let’s explore why gloves are worn in healthcare to begin with. Gloves dramatically reduce the risk of contamination with blood or body fluids, non-intact skin, mucous membranes and harmful drugs or chemicals by acting as a physical barrier. To simplify, they protect both staff and patients. Protective uniform solutions became even more important during the outbreak of Covid-19, causing the usage of gloves to soar. But there is evidence to suggest that excessive glove use can hinder protection when not worn correctly.
What’s deemed excessive glove use?
Whilst gloves are useful for preventing cross-contamination, they’re not necessarily needed for minimal contact procedures. GOV.UK confirms that “gloves are not required when undertaking administrative tasks, writing in the patient chart, giving oral medications or vaccinations, distributing or collecting patient dietary trays.” However, it is crucial to wash your hands or use hand sanitiser between patients and generally throughout the day when completing these minimal contact tasks. If gloves were to be worn, they would need to be changed per patient per task, which as you could imagine would require a lot of gloves.
False sense of security
There is a common misconception that wearing gloves means you’re fully protected, but contagious infections can live on the outside of gloves and if not taken off between patients can cause cross-contamination. Presenting a false sense of security, gloves are often viewed as substitutes for hand hygiene and people tend to wash their hands less frequently.
Wearing gloves for long periods of time can also be quite harmful to your hands. Due to overhydration, skin can become very sore and lead to increased risk of dermatitis. According to an RCN survey 2020, 93% of nurses reported at least one symptom of hand dermatitis in the last 12 months. Good hand hygiene is essential when working in a clinical environment, therefore measures for prevention are key.
Best practices to make a difference
It’s time to do our bit, make a difference and think about why you’re wearing gloves. Is it really necessary in that situation? Here’s some best practice recommendations for reducing unnecessary glove usage without compromising hygiene safety:
Remove gloves as soon as the task that requires them has been completed.
Don’t reach for gloves at the start of every contact with patients. If you’re just having a conversation there’s no need to wear gloves at this stage.
Ask staff to risk assess when they would wear gloves to identify the situations where they are imperative and where they are not.
Gloves will always be necessary in healthcare as Rose Gallagher, RCN professional lead for infection prevention and control confirms “the biggest contribution we can make is we need to be really careful around making sure we only wear gloves when we need to.” It’s important to evaluate your glove usage, but above all make sure hygiene standards are being met to protect both medical professionals and patients. So, next time you go to pick up a pair of gloves, just think, are these necessary for this situation?
At Meltemi, we understand the importance of suitable medical workwear. That's why all our medical scrubs and PPE garments are designed with the wearer in mind. If you have any questions about suitable medical workwear for you or your team call us on 01603 731330 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.