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‘Thinking outside the box’ in reducing HAIs

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Thought-provoking presentations on a number of aspects of reducing healthcare-associated infections – ranging from the challenges of cleaning and decontaminating surgical instruments, to a company’s development of a range of compostable, single-use aprons made from a bio-resin – featured at a Central Sterilising Club Study Day, focused on the theme, ‘Dare to Defy the Dogma’. Louise Frampton, editor of HEJ’s sister title, The Clinical Services Journal, reports.

Held at the iconic Liverpool Medical Institute, the CSC's Study Day was opened by Jimmy Walker, Chairman of the CSC. The programme provided some thought-provoking presentations on reducing healthcare-associated infections — from the use of probiotics in hospital environments, and balancing infection control with sustainability, to the risks associated with prion diseases and the challenges around difficult-to-clean instruments. Other highlights included the microbiological risks associated with hospital laundry; whether the overestimation of risks around the decontamination of semi-critical devices is 'less bad' than underestimation, and the integration of decontamination services in Liverpool.

The first session, 'Thinking outside the box' was chaired by Clinical Microbiologist, Mike Simmons, who introduced Dr. Mary O'Riordan, co-founder of HaPPE Earth. A clinical entrepreneur and previously a doctor for over 18 years, Dr. O'Riordan highlighted the issue of plastic PPE pollution in hospitals. It is widely acknowledged that infection prevention has presented some unintended challenges around sustainability — during the pandemic, for example, the use of single-use plastic PPE 'escalated to enormous quantities'. This is an issue she is keen to address.

Dr. O'Riordan previously worked within the area of public health, specialising in Emergency Response for Highly Emerging, Infectious Threats. She has also been the International Health Regulations (IHR) and ECDC Irish Focal Point representative for emerging infectious threats. She realised there was a risk that her legacy would be 'to cover the world in plastic', so she decided to set up a family-owned business called HaPPE Earth (short for Health, Agriculture and PPE). She pointed out that plastic waste is generated at a rate approaching 400 million tonnes per year. Healthcare is a major contributor to the single-use plastics problem. Only 18% of plastic waste is recycled, and 24% is incinerated. The remaining 58% is either sent to landfill or enters the natural environment.

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