In September 2015 when my team and I were at the glittering Excellence in Care Awards ceremony at Easterbrook Hall after being nominated for not one, but two awards, I found myself pondering what it took for us to get from our lowest low to our highest high…
In early 2014 the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate walked into ICU unannounced and unearthed a catalogue of issues that turned our world upside down. In an instant our team went from a well-oiled machine to a rusty old tractor not knowing how to function.
The title of the blog sums up what we thought, as an organisation none of us could see what the Healthcare Inspectorate saw, we were in fact too close, too involved. For all our nursing care was never in question, we still doubted our abilities as nurses and wondered whether we were failing at the job we worked so hard at and got so much satisfaction from. The shame and embarrassment of having our place of work discussed in the newspapers and throughout the hospital, whilst trying to ‘keep it together’ still caring for critically ill patients and their families, was an overwhelmingly stressful time for all of us. The whole time we seemed to only have one question for each other…”How did this happen?” We put all our time and effort in to caring for our patients, did it matter that there wasn’t a record of the shelves being wiped down? Yes it did.
We listened to feedback, sought advice and did extensive research around the way we did things. We really dug deep and relearned our roles to include a vast new array of cleaning and infection control measures. It took months of liaising with the Infection Control Team, Domestic Services, Medics, Management, and Estates to name a few. There was clarification sought for EVERYTHING, from everyday things like bed bathing a patient to the fear of the effects of excessive Actichlor on our health.
The transition period between the inspection and the refurbishment of ICU put strain on everyone involved, however during this time it became apparent how well we pulled together, worked as a team and were committed to putting the broken pieces back together in order to be the best we could be. Staff came in to help in their own time, worked extra shifts and there was actually a lot of excitement about working in the newly refurbished unit, it was like a blank canvas. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all plain sailing, the months following the inspection included periods of extremely low staff morale, increased sickness absence and an emotionally fragile workforce who at times found it difficult to talk about what happened to us. We eventually found that discussing the experience with colleagues and other professionals did help to rid us of some of the mixed emotions we were struggling with. Thankfully there did come a time when we realised we had to stop looking back and start looking forward and take the good from a bad situation.
We slowly began to regain confidence in ourselves and became very proud of our ‘new’ unit. During this time it became clear just how many of us had ‘a touch of OCD’! There were times when you could probably have eaten your dinner off the floor in ICU, and we just stopped short of putting Actichlor in our cereal! We now work relentlessly keeping our very extensive cleaning schedule up to date and everyone is involved in adhering to our philosophy of cleanliness, God help anyone who tries to put their gloves and aprons in a domestic stream waste bin! We really are acutely aware of everything now.
We knew that changing habits would be the hardest part but also that these changes had to be sustainable and over time these changes have become the new norm for us. These are the changes which are now the norm to the new staff that have joined us since the inspection and will undoubtedly evolve and develop in the future, as everything does in nursing. The HEI inspectors have since returned to the unit and saw a drastic improvement in all aspects of cleanliness, which we knew they would.
Winning the Excellence in Care award for Infection Prevention in a way closed the chapter on the hard times we faced in 2014 and reinforced to us how we took the best from it and got to where we are today. We are dedicated, committed and knowledgeable in Infection Prevention and have regained the confidence we lost when our unit was put under the microscope.
As the saying goes “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
Laura White is the Senior Charge Nurse for ICU and Surgical HDU at DGRI