Infection prevention and control nursing

Published on: 29 Apr 2021

Advice on how to move into infection prevention and control nursing.

Nesta Featherstone

While infection prevention and control (IPC) has always been essential, COVID-19 has thrown its contribution to patient care into sharp relief.

Nesta Featherstone is associate nurse director for the infection prevention service at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust.  She qualified as a nurse in 1988 and has worked at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport throughout her career, joining the trust’s infection prevention and control team in 2006 and becoming the service's lead four years later.

'It was very much an office-based role when I started,' she says.

'I felt it was a service that needed to be out on the wards, working with people and ensuring infection prevention was part of everyday life – and not just an add-on.'

Throughout the pandemic, the team has continued its work to keep patients and staff safe. More than 1,500 ward inspections and 170 on-the-spot audits have been carried out, in areas including hand hygiene, personal protective equipment for staff and patients’ use of face coverings.

‘It’s really important to try to carry on doing the normal things you would do – and part of that is looking at what’s going on in the wards,’ she says.

‘The pandemic has shown us that things we thought were in place may not have been as embedded in the organisation as we’d hoped. All of us can become blind to things like posters – you just stop seeing them.’

For Ms Featherstone, good infection control relies on a combination of factors. ‘You need to make sure all your policies and procedures are in place and that you don’t become blasé about them,’ she says.

‘They also need to be fit for practice so people will follow them. You can’t introduce something unless you know what’s happening on the ground. It’s very easy to write something on a piece of paper and say, “this is how it needs to be done,” but if you cannot do it in practice, it’s not going to work.

‘Infection prevention and control is the golden thread running throughout the organisation – and it has to be right.’

Cavell Star Award winner

In January, Ms Featherstone’s dedication to keeping patients and staff safe throughout the pandemic was recognised with a Cavell Star Award, after she was nominated by her colleagues.

‘Nesta has a unique ability to find a solution to a problem when it would appear that solutions are limited,’ says Stockport NHS Foundation Trust deputy chief nurse Helen Howard.

‘She always provides the support and has worked tirelessly over this year, often being contacted out of hours to support colleagues during times of significant challenge.’

‘I’m delighted,’ says Ms Featherstone, who was presented with her award at a socially distanced ceremony. ‘It was overwhelming. It’s a good job I was wearing a mask, as tears were streaming down my face. It’s very humbling and made me feel so proud. I’ve been recognised for a job I always wanted to do.’

Nesta Featherstone’s tips for developing your career in the IPC team

  • Explore the possibility of spending some time with your organisation’s IPC team. ‘Try it out first, before you make a commitment’
     
  • If you’re a nursing student, consider this area for one of your placements. ‘We’re trying to take students in the future’
     
  • Forget the idea that it’s a nine to five, Monday to Friday role. ‘Those who’ve worked with us appreciate how hard it can be. We work seven days a week, including evenings and at night, because if you want to reach people across the organisation, you have to go to them – they won’t come to you’
     
  • Find out whether your organisation is creating any programmes to encourage people into IPC roles. ‘There aren’t national courses out there at the moment, so many places are considering developing their own.'

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This is an abridged version of the article Infection prevention and control nursing: could it be your next career move? which was first published in Nursing Standard.

Read more careers articles on Nursing Standard