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I have been a procurement nurse for four years now and can confidently say that no two days are the same. It is extremely satisfying to make change to staff and patient experience in unexpected ways.
“We were aware that pillows could carry all sorts of bacteria”
I became involved in trying to source a pillow that was more suitable for our patients, in as much as it did not expose them to potential healthcare-associated infection. We looked for a pillow that was heat sealed and didn’t have any stitching, so bacteria couldn’t ingress the filling via the stitch holes.
We were aware that pillows could carry all sorts of bacteria from upper respiratory tract infections to E coli. We sourced a pillow that appeared to meet our needs and asked for a couple of samples.
When these appeared to be as good as we were led to believe, I met with the managing director along with the infection prevention and control matron and a medical matron. With end of year monies we were able to order 3,333, totalling a £50,000 spend pillows for the health board.
The decision was made to supply the four main hospitals with pillows for inpatient areas only, as well as one of the mental health hospitals as they had experienced significant infection issues.
The pillows were labelled with the name of the health board and hospital site on arrival. Ward staff were encouraged to use a marker pen and write the name of the ward on the pillow too. This was to try and manage the pillows and keep them on the wards they were allocated to.
The pillowcases in NHS Wales are a fine white cotton, which meant that it was easy to identify at a glance which pillows were the new ones as they are blue and were visible through the pillowcases. We could have chosen a cream coloured pillow but opted for blue for this very reason.
The managing director of the company walked the wards of two sites with me in order to visit the wards and educate the ward staff (registered nurses and healthcare support workers) in how to care for the pillows.
I was surprised to hear some of the comments, as not all staff were in favour of the new pillows initially. They were concerned about the cost of the pillows and how thick they were; they also did not understand why they needed to be educated how to care for a pillow.
Hospital pillows aren’t traditionally known for being comfortable and when we discussed the fact that they were also known to be a carrier of healthcare associated infections, the nursing staff were quickly reassured.
I explained that while the initial cost was higher, these pillows had a life expectancy of a minimum of two years and would be far more comfortable for patients. The fact that they were thick meant that often a patient would only require one not two pillows.
The pillows are to be cleaned at ward level and not sent to the laundry; the fact that the pillows are so well labelled has been a great help for the laundry staff when they have to return pillows which have been inadvertently sent there.
They have been widely accepted now and the following year an additional 800 pillows were purchased out of end-of-year monies and this time departments were also included when the pillows were allocated.
Ward and department staff regularly contact me asking how they can order more and they are still being ordered today.
Lesley Cook, is lead nurse clinical procurement at NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership and a member of the frontline procurement team at Swansea Bay University Health Board