Cutting glove use will not only help protect against damage to the hands caused by overuse of gloves but also cut plastic waste and protect the environment. Throughout the pandemic, the overriding image is that of a nurse in full personal protective equipment (PPE) – wearing a gown, face mask and gloves. These items continue to be vital for protecting nursing staff from infection, but their overuse carries its own risks.
A staggering 12.7 billion gloves were sent for use in the NHS and social care in England alone between 25 February 2020 to 31 March 2022. This compares to 1.7 billion in 2019.
When used in the right circumstances, and correctly, gloves are a valuable part of the PPE available to protect staff. But overuse of gloves carries its own risk, not only of infection but also damage to the hands. This can lead to painful cracks and sores that don’t heal, resulting in needing to take time away from clinical areas. For some, the condition can become debilitating and make it difficult to carry on in nursing.
Added to this the plastic these gloves are made from is derived from oil, the production of which contributes to climate change and environmental pollution. They are often produced outside of the UK and travel thousands of miles to reach health care staff.
While gloves are essential tools for some tasks, they are not required for others. For instance, gloves are required when in contact with blood or body fluids, broken skin and harmful drugs or chemicals. They are not, however, needed for procedures such as:
- Giving vaccinations
- Taking blood pressure
- Helping patients to stand, eat or drink.
By thinking about if a glove is necessary before every procedure, nursing staff can contribute to making healthcare more sustainable and reduce the impact on our environment. They will also be reducing the chance of reducing potentially debilitating damage to their hands.
Glove Awareness Week is an RCN initiative, and the RCN risk assessment toolkit can assist all healthcare employers to operate safely and in line with Health and Safety legislation.
Nursing staff and their employers can make at least one change this Glove Awareness Week and pledge their support to cut glove use.
RCN professional lead for infection prevention and control, Rose Gallagher, said: “Nursing staff have always instinctively turned to examination gloves as a first line of protection and the pandemic saw a massive increase in their use.
“They are, however, not always necessary and their overuse can lead to long-term and sometimes permanent damage to the hands. Nursing staff can be reassured that hand hygiene is a highly effective way of protecting themselves from viruses such as COVID-19, which means we can reduce glove use safely when they are not required.
“Taking steps to make one change and reducing the use of gloves can also play a huge part in reducing waste and increasing sustainability in health and care services.”