Glove awareness week


This week marks the Glove Awareness Week (GAW), which runs until 7 May 2022. This year's theme reinvigorates the call to action “make one change”. Following on from “The Gloves are Off!” campaign, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) aims to further encourage “appropriate glove use by raising awareness of sustainability factors and the importance of good skin health”.  

The mistake of inappropriate and over-use of PPE 

In an article published by RCN, experts note that “it is agreed that hands are the principal route causing cross-infection with hand hygiene being the single most important factor in controlling its spread”. However, the current overuse of gloves to sustain a barrier between cross-contamination is actually having a detrimental effect on both the spread of infections (if the gloves are not switched between patient care) and hand hygiene. Helen Dunn, nurse consultant for infection control at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and part of the team that launched the “Glove are Off!” campaign notes: “If staff are wearing gloves the whole time they care for their patient, in effect, the gloves have become a barrier to hand hygiene”.

Rose Gallagher, RCN professional Lead for infection prevention and control has stated that “the pandemic demonstrated very clearly the importance of the right protective equipment. It has also, however, demonstrated the reality and risks of wearing it for extended periods of time”. As such, this year’s GOW seeks to regain the confidence of nurses around reducing unnecessary glove use in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and to encourage hand hygiene. Rose continues, ‘“When used correctly, medical gloves are a vital part of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). But there are many occasions when gloves are not needed and hand hygiene is completely effective in protecting you and your patients”.

Research has shown that nursing staff, when administering medication - whether oral or intravenous - wore gloves throughout. Helen explains, “They would be working in one room, preparing the medication, with lots of people around and wearing non-sterile gloves. They would then give the medication to the patient, wearing those same gloves”. Nicola Wilson, Practise Educator at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), found that the practice of wearing gloves has become such an ingrained behaviour, common to all hospital staff, that the reality of gloves providing protection is actually being undermined by the misuse of this repeating behaviour.  “Research shows that nurses and other healthcare professionals put gloves on because they believe it is protecting their patient in some way”, however, “it is not”, explains Nicola. “The gloves used are non-sterile nitrile gloves, so your clean hands are better for patients. We should only wear those gloves if we’re going to come into contact with bodily fluid, non-intact skin, or mucus membrane”. Ali Upton, Chair of the RCN UK Safety Representatives Committee, shares an example: “Sometimes, gloves are worn when entering data onto tablets or computers. Hand hygiene is, and should, be preferable to glove wearing when completing work such as administrative tasks”.

Planning for the future: make one small change 

Recalling the theme for GOW, “make one change”, the RCN research noted that “Health care has a significant carbon footprint. It is responsible for 4-5% of global greenhouse gases globally. In the UK, the NHS creates 6.3% of England’s carbon emissions''. However, by following these few steps, we can help prevent damage to hands while still protecting patients and our planet's resources. Some of those steps include: 

  • Only using gloves when needed - and remove as soon as possible after the care task is complete.
  • Not immediately putting on gloves for every interaction with a patient.
  • Using emollient creams after handwashing to protect the hands. 

If nursing staff could make just one small change to ensure gloves are used at the appropriate times, there would be a drastic impact on the effectiveness of IPC and a huge benefit to the environment. Nicola Wilson, Practise Educator at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), has voiced how well the campaign, in conjunction with the “gloves are off!”, has benefited GOSH and has already shown significant results. Together, the nursing staff are seeing benefits for environmental concerns, as well as improving the staff and patient wellbeing.  

You can find out more about the Glove Awareness week here.

You can find out more about the Gloves are off campaign here.

You can find more information on how to reduce glove use here.