This past year has given us some extreme weather: who can forget the deluge of snow that the ‘Beast from the east’ brought us in March? And then, just a couple of months later we enjoyed unprecedented heat waves throughout the long summer. Unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball, so who knows what the next few months will bring weather-wise? However, what we do know is that, if you work in a care home, it’s not only the weather that you will be concerned about this winter.
Without fail, wintertime is a challenging period throughout health and social care: acute admissions to A&E departments soar which affects every part of the NHS and has a resulting impact in wider areas of social and residential care.
The care home environment means that seasonal infections such as influenza (‘flu) and norovirus (‘winter vomiting bug’) can spread easily and cause havoc – both amongst residents and staff. In addition, the cold weather means that many residents will have an increased risk of falls, some of which can be life-threatening, and all will affect the resident’s quality of life. The long dark days don’t help either as some residents may be prone to seasonal depression and this can affect their ability or motivation to eat, drink or care for themselves.
Unless you move to sunnier climates there is no avoiding the challenges of the next few months. What doesn’t work though, is burying your head in the metaphorical sand and counting the days till spring. Instead, you need to have robust plans in place to help protect those in your care (including staff) and to minimise the risks that this time of year undoubtedly brings. But remember, this isn’t just a job for the managers; every staff member has a role to play in keeping your care home as healthy as possible during winter.
The key messages, which we will go through in more detail are:
There are lots of practical steps that you can take to make your care home ‘winter ready.’ You may not be able to fully eliminate the risks of ill-health over the next few months, especially when residents have a range of comorbidities, but you can lessen the impact and thus continue to operate and provide a quality care service.
Firstly, consider the following points:
It’s your duty to follow this advice, however you also need to ensure that adequate facilities (e.g. liquid soap, disposable paper and/or alcohol-based hand gels) are always available in every room as well as communal areas.
Other important aspects of infection control include: using gloves and aprons appropriately; only using invasive devices / procedures when clinically indicated (e.g. catheters); ensuring equipment and the environment is safe and clean; ensuring adequate waste disposal and linen management systems are in place and promoting good respiratory hygiene (Catch it! Bin it! Kill it!)
The important message for you and your colleagues is that you simply can’t ‘cut corners’ with infection control – if you do you put lives at risk.
As well as looking after your residents you need to look out for your fellow colleagues. The smooth running of your care home revolves around team work, so if someone looks tired or unwell ask if they are ok or if you can help them.
Read our article ‘Looking after yourself‘ for information on coping with the demands of a job in health and social care.
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