The hands are one of the major ways infections can be passed on and hand washing is a very simple task that, when carried out correctly, is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of infection.
Why do we need to wash our hands?
Each day germs collect on our hands. These germs are so small that we cannot see them with the naked eye – even hands which appear clean can be carrying germs – but some of them can cause infection. Washing your hands removes the germs that have collected on them, and so reduces the risk of you and others being affected by harmful germs.
We are at particular risk of infection when we are ill – this may be because our immune system is weaker than normal, or because we have surgical wounds which allow germs easier access to the bloodstream.
As a result, regular handwashing is especially important when you are in hospital, whether you are a patient or visitor.
When to wash your hands
You should always wash your hands:
After using the toilet/urinal/commode/bedpan
Before eating or handling food
If your hands are visibly dirty
If you cannot find a hand basin or are not well enough to reach one, just ask a member of staff for a washing bowl or moist cleansing wipe. If your hands are not visibly dirty, you can use alcohol hand rub but not after using the toilet or commode. You will find alcohol dispensers at entrances and exits to the wards and at the side of beds.
Because we all wash our hands it is easy to think we are already doing all we can, but in fact most people could reduce the risk of actively passing on infection by following the correct hand washing technique. Even if you think you know how to wash your hands already, you will almost certainly find you can improve the thoroughness of your hand washing.
How to wash your hands
Wet your hands thoroughly before applying soap.
Vigorously massage all surfaces of both your hands with lather. Remember to pay special attention to the finger tips, thumbs and the area between the fingers as these are all frequently missed. Right handed people have a tendency to wash the left hand more thoroughly, and vice versa.
If you wear a ring, remember to wash the area underneath it.
Finally, make sure you rinse all the soap off your hands under running water, and then dry your hands thoroughly.