Publish date: 27 July 2023

UCLH is reminding staff that gloves are not always required, by reducing the instances where non-sterile disposable gloves are used when treating non-infectious patients. The focus is on clean hands which are just as effective a barrier against infection. 

Gloves Off

Staff are not expected to wear gloves if there are no risks of infection or risk of body fluid exposure when:

  • Taking patients’ vitals (e.g. blood pressure, temperature etc.)
  • Examining or touching a patient
  • Assisting a patient with food and drink
  • Giving vaccinations
  • Administration tasks near a patient (e.g. answering the phone, using the computer)
  • Moving a patient’s belongings
  • Tidying the bedspace.

Evidence suggests gloves are often used in circumstances where they are not required, which could hinder hand hygiene due to the potential for cross-contamination. Clean hands are as effective a barrier as non-sterile gloves, where the patient is not infectious. Excessive use of gloves can also lead to an increase in skin issues in our staff. 

Glove use will only be reduced if we know that there is no known risk of infection. If a patient is showing any sign of infection, or if there is likely to be contact with blood, bodily fluids or a mucous membrane, glove use will continue. Excellent hand hygiene is also expected in situations where gloves are still worn.

“We believe that reducing gloves use and increasing the focus on hand cleanliness when dealing with non-infectious patients will lead to a better and safer experience for both patients and staff”, said director of infection prevention and control Gee Yen Shin.

“We are confident that staff and patient experience at UCLH will be improved by making these changes.”

As an additional benefit, the Gloves Off initiative is expected to reduce plastic waste and deliver cost savings of at least £200,000 over the next 12 months, aligning with UCLH’s sustainability and cost improvement programmes.

“We’re aiming to stop the culture of reaching for gloves out of habit”

UCLH’s neonatal unit is one of the departments that have been participating in the gloves off initiative.

“The project has been really well received across the team, although there was initially a bit of nervousness”, said the ward’s embedded infection prevention and control nurse,  Bronwen Shuttleworth. “It was really important that we communicated that frequent handwashing was just as safe, if not safer than using gloves when the patient was non-infectious and this is now our focus.

“We are caring for really tiny babies, and everyone wants to make sure they are protected. We are aiming to stop the culture of reaching for gloves out of habit and asking staff to take time to think whether they are really needed.”

Good communication with patients has also been key to a successful launch, according to Bronwen.

“We gave a letter to the family of our newborns which explained why we were making the changes. This has been a big help in reassuring them that we are always focused on keeping their babies safe.”