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The pandemic – a reminder about universal precautions!

A year into the recession, many of us will have felt the impact of the "credit crunch" either personally or professionally and its effect on already finite resources within the NHS cannot be underestimated. Now, as if things couldn't get any worse, we have the threat of a flu pandemic to contend with!

The Health Protection Agency reports that confirmed cases of swine influenza in the UK are now at 71, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised its pandemic alert level to Phase 5.

As health professionals working in primary care, you are at the coalface when such events arise. You often have to work extra hard to support and advise patients and their families who may be extremely anxious and concerned (particularly those with long-term conditions, young and old alike) when they hear media reports of swine flu in their area.

However, for many of you, preparations for such an event began a couple of years ago so you will feel ready to handle the situation as it develops.

Households across the UK will now have received their Department of Health leaflet advising them about preventive measures with useful links and telephone numbers for further advice. What struck me about the leaflet was that it was also an opportunity to remind everyone about basic infection control measures we can all take to prevent the spread of infection.

While horror stories continue to shock us about healthcare associated infections such as MRSA and C. difficile, we shouldn't become complacent that everything is rosy in primary care. There is still a great deal to be done, and advising patients and staff about infection control, antibiotic use and good handwashing should be basic principles that we all follow.

However, recent reports of a survey undertaken in Scotland on behalf of the RCN (NiP, 11 May 2009) found that many nurses and other healthcare professionals are still not receiving appropriate training - what about independent contractors and private agencies?

As nurses I would urge you to use the current situation to ensure that all members of your team have basic training in infection control measures so that we can set an example of exemplary practice when it comes to prevention of infection. Call me old fashioned, but when I trained many years ago we had our handwashing and aseptic technique assessed thoroughly and would be told in no uncertain terms if we didn't come up to scratch!

Practice nurses are in a prime position to lead in this area to ensure measures are in place to achieve high standards in infection control. Let's work together to get the basics right!

1. Nunkoo B, Pickles H. Infection prevention and control in general practice. Nurs Stand 2008;23(13):44–8.
2. Health Protection Agency.