The RCN is asking nurses to reduce glove use to make healthcare more sustainable for Glove Awareness Week, after a ‘massive increase’ in use during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The nursing union is asking members to pledge to make one change in their workplace, by either not using gloves when giving vaccinations, when feeding people, when entering a patient’s home, when comforting patients, or when automatically giving IV medication.
The request comes after NHS England data published this month showed 7.3bn single gloves were used between February 2021 and March 2022, and 5.5bn between February 2020 and February 2021. This is compared to just 1.7bn gloves used in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The RCN said the plastic in gloves is derived from crude oil, the production of which contributes to climate change and environmental pollution. They are also often produced outside of the UK and travel thousands of miles to reach healthcare staff.
Gloves are needed in some tasks – such as contact with blood or body fluids, broken skin, and harmful drugs and chemicals – but not always when giving vaccinations, and never when taking blood pressure or helping patients to stand, mobilise, eat or drink.
Rose Gallagher, RCN professional lead for infection prevention and control, 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.’
But gloves are ‘not always necessary’ and warned ‘their over-use can lead to long-term and sometimes permanent damage to the hands,’ increase waste and impact sustainability, she added.
She continued: ‘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. ‘