​Infection Control Practitioners (ICPs) are filling the crucial role of preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our healthcare settings and keeping staff, the healthcare environment and patients safe. Read all about it from Kathy.

What is your role at NSW Health?

I’m the senior manager of the Healthcare Associated Infection (HAI) program at the Clinical Excellence Commission (CEC), which is underpinned by infection prevention and control.

Infection Control Practitioners (ICPs) provide expertise to reduce the risk of the COVID-19 virus spreading. It is an enormous responsibility to help keep our 146,000 frontline staff safe through the pandemic by supporting the system with guidance, advice, resources, and education.

ICPs come from the frontline. I myself have been at the CEC for 15 months and before that I managed infection prevention and control at Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) for more than 20 years and a nurse for 35 years.

What are you doing now as part of the COVID-19 response?

Infection prevention and control programs have always played a critical role across the NSW health system. However, this COVID-19 response has seen an intensity and volume of work which is unprecedented.

Just as our clinicians and support staff care for patients, it’s ICPs who are caring for health workers during the pandemic to keep them safe. The increased focus and attention on infection prevention and control has meant extraordinary engagement across all levels of the health system. The Infection prevention and control response is dynamic and will continue to flex up or down depending on the COVID-19 response and escalation required.

It’s still business as usual for us – preventing and controlling infections – but it’s exponentially grown, particularly the focus on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We’ve worked extensively on PPE specifications, application, and all things to do with PPE. A lot of my time is spent clinically assessing procured items to make sure what we’re looking at is appropriate in a clinical setting, meets standards and will protect patients and our health workers.

IPCs from the CEC have been called to a number of outbreaks, particularly in aged care where our expertise in infection prevention and control has been critical in stopping the spread of the virus. COVID-19 is a new and emerging virus but the infection prevention and control recommendations are not new, the precautions and prevention strategies themselves, have been embedded in our health system for years.

It can be challenging to work out how this translates into other settings such as aged care facilities and supporting facilities to take staff through this step-by-step process and explain how the recommendations apply to their specific environment has been a large piece of work.

Have you been involved in anything like this before?

I have been involved in infection prevention and control through ebola, SARS and MERS, where the transmission rate was limited compared to COVID-19. The closest outbreak in comparison would be the influenza H1N1 (swine flu) of 2009, but still the transmissibility, response and affected age groups were very different for those diseases. We did not close down borders or implement the community controls like we are with COVID-19.

What’s your biggest learning to date?

Prior to COVID-19, I knew the importance of infection prevention and control, but the biggest learning for me has been how to get this message from the CEC out to the system. We have quickly discovered how integrated and vast the health system is and, how to engage and better position the roles and expertise of ICPs working in our hospitals. We have been arming our ICPs with information, resources and training to better support them and other healthcare staff; and we hope to continue this into the future.

We have also been working with other specialty groups including the NSW COVID-19 Clinical Council and the COVID-19 Communities of Practice to engage with clinicians across the system. This has helped us get our important messages out and to let staff and mangers know we’re here to support them. It has also enabled us to discuss, review evidence and solve some of the more technically difficult issues.

You have good insights into what’s happening with the pandemic. What do you tell family and friends when they ask?

It’s all about consistent messaging – good hand hygiene, cough etiquette, getting tested and staying home if you’re unwell and environmental cleaning. My son has an immune deficiency, has recovered from cancer and had a bone marrow transplant, but he’s still been to work every day. I tell him to rely on good hand hygiene practises and to be aware of even the slightest change in his symptoms.

What’s your message to colleagues across the system?

ICPs are not only experts in infection prevention and control and reducing the risk of the virus spreading, we are also charged with the enormous responsibility of supporting our staff and local ICPs to do this in their facilities and services. We are committed and here to ensure staff, and clinicians, our healthcare environment and our patients across the system are safe.

I appreciate this will be a pretty intense time right now at work – how do you unwind if you get a spare moment?​

How do I unwind? Wow, I might need to answer that after the pandemic! Working from home I’ve found I barely move from my home office. I’ve had many long days, even some all-nighters but I do enjoy the camaraderie with my fellow ICPs, I like to reflect with colleagues and bounce ideas off them and debrief with them.

They’re an amazing team and they’re doing a crucial role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our healthcare settings and community more broadly. I also want to give a massive shout out to all our ICPs working in hospitals who are doing a tough job and should be recognised for the enormous role they play.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Current as at: Thursday 25 June 2020
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW