The hidden dangers of cubicle curtains
Hospital hygiene is being continuously improved and adapted as our knowledge of the way infection spreads improves. “Infection prevention” and “infection control” are both NHS buzzwords that are routinely thrown around. Dozens of articles and studies examine the hygiene level of UK hospitals, but cubicle curtains are generally overlooked. We wanted to know what effect cubicle curtains really have on hospital hygiene levels, and ask why they are so often forgotten?
According to an article published last month for the MailOnline, there seems to be a systemic problem in the healthcare industry with cubicle curtains infected with multiple strains of bacteria. Cubicle curtains, it says, are a “breeding ground for MRSA and other dangerous bugs”. Here at Interweave, we thought we’d dig a little deeper to find out the truth about cubicle curtains.
What’s the problem?
Some medical professionals do not wash their hands before handling the curtain around a patient. The patient may then have a string of visitors who also handle the curtain without sanitising their hands. The patients themselves frequently touch the cubicle curtain too. This culminates in the transfer and relocation of bugs across the hospital. These bugs then multiply at an alarming rate, spreading around and infecting patients, visitors and staff.
Where’s the proof?
A study conducted by the University of Manitoba has shown that bacteria start to build up on the surface of the curtain immediately after washing, even on curtains which are put straight into storage. By the end of their three-week study, 100% of curtains hanging in patient rooms were harbouring MRSA. None of the patients staying in these rooms had the MRSA infection themselves, meaning the bug seems to have been transferred onto the fabric by visitors and healthcare workers.
What guidelines are in place?
The UK government guidelines for cleaning and replacing privacy curtains simply state that “the manufacturer’s recommendations in respect of periodic inspection and maintenance should be followed”. There are no further regulations in place, and no requirement to test curtains for contamination.
What can we do to stop the spread of infection?
To combat the spread of infection, traditional cubicle curtains must either be washed at antimicrobial temperatures or replaced more frequently. The cost of laundering fabric can amount to more than the cost of getting rid of disposable curtains. Laundering takes employee time for the removal, washing, and reinstallation which is often done by dedicated cleaning staff. Disposal is a much simpler process of replacing the curtains when required and throwing away the old curtain. There is sometimes a waste-removal cost associated with this, though all the curtains Interweave supply are recyclable.
Making the switch
To maintain the exemplary hygiene level patients have come to expect, healthcare providers are making the switch from reusable to disposable curtains. According to an article published by Healthcare Design and Management, ‘50% of hospitals in the UK have made the switch from fabric to disposable cubicle curtains’ in recent years. This shift has seen a measurable reduction in the spread of infections such as norovirus, MRSA and clostridium difficile. Hospitals are being urged to make the change to disposable curtains, if they haven’t already.
Switching from polycotton to polypropylene reduces the risk of infection, it can also reduce the costs associated with implementing and maintaining a ward’s privacy curtains. Disposable cubicle curtains are cheaper to purchase, and ours can be easily stored on each ward as required.
Are there any drawbacks to disposable cubicle curtains?
There are some indicators that privacy curtains can affect the mood of patients. We know that the aesthetics of a room, such as the colour of the walls, influences mood. Studies suggest that this can have an impact on recovery time, or on the cognition levels of patients with illnesses such as dementia. Old-fashioned fabric curtains are regarded by patients as comforting, with most people regarding disposable curtains as less aesthetically pleasing.
So, hidden dangers – myth or reality?
After looking into it ourselves, it’s clear to us that there are certainly hidden dangers lurking behind cubicle curtains. The solution to this perhaps lies in adopting a more stringent replacement or laundering policy to try and combat the cultivation and spread of potentially harmful bacteria. At Interweave, we believe the key to this could be the implementation of anti-microbial polypropylene cubicle curtains, as well as a bigger emphasis on the importance of hand hygiene before touching curtains. These simple changes are crucial components in the fight to reduce the number of HAIs contracted annually by patients in the UK.