The COVID-19 pandemic was declared in Australia in early 2020. Concerns related not only to the impact on the acute care sector but also the residential aged care sector (RACF).
Early in the pandemic, COVID-19 outbreaks in RACF had devastating outcomes. Infection prevention and control (IPC) expertise was suboptimal in some of these RACF outbreaks.1
This report describes the work undertaken by the IPC team within a NSW Local Health District (LHD), to support and strengthen IPC capacity within the 44 RACF within the local geographical area.
The first stage of this project was to visit each of the 44 RACF to undertake an IPC and COVID-19 preparedness audit. The baseline audit consisted of 97 individual audit points sitting within 10 major headings.
This audit revealed no onsite IPC-qualified staff and inconsistencies in IPC education and product availability within local RACFs. Several recommendations for improvement, and offers of practical support, were made to each RACF.
Coincidentally, the Australian government established the requirement to employ IPC nurse leads in all RACFs.2 It was apparent from the initial audit that these newly appointed IPC nurses would require ongoing support. This was achieved by establishing a RACF IPC Link Network,3 initiated to provide monthly educational updates for 12 months.
Preparation for the Link Network involved an electronic survey seeking suggestions from aged care staff, IPC leads and their managers of educational requirements. Education topics were selected from the results of this survey. Meetings are hosted on a web-based platform, and afterwards presentations are distributed to the RACF IPC leads to replicate the education to staff within their RACF.
This initiative enhanced linking and collaboration between the LHD IPC team and the newly appointed RACF IPC leads. Additionally, using a virtual platform enabled all 44 RACFs to join, gain education, discuss unique issues specific to their site and network with other RACF leads.
Several IPC link nurse programs have been established in acute care settings,3 but there are no other reports of their establishment in RACF. Their objective is to reduce the impact of communicable diseases on individuals and organisations by improved IPC practice. This initiative will not be evaluated until the IPC Link Network education program is completed in December 2021. However, it is already known that the RACF staff, including frontline clinicians, site managers, general managers and chief executives have welcomed the support provided by the LHD and that this has enhanced preparedness for COVID-19 risk within their facilities.
Cousins, S. (2020). Experts criticise Australia’s aged care failings over COVID-19. The Lancet, 396(10259), 1322-1323.
Commonwealth of Australia 2020. Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety aged care and COVID-19: a special report. https:// agedcare.royalcommission.gov. au/sites/default/files/2020-10/ aged-care-and-covid-19-aspecial-report.pdf accessed 07/07/2021
Cooper, T. (2004). Delivering an infection control link nurse programme: improving practice. British Journal of Infection Control, 5(6), 24-27.
Scott Lang RN, BNurs, GCertCritCare, Masters Health Leadership and Management, GCertInfectCont is Clinical Nurse Consultant, Infection Management and Control Service at Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW Australia
Joanna Harris RN, RM, RHV, BSc(Hons) Community Health Nursing, BSc Infection Control, GCertHealthLeadership and Management, GCert Research, PhD candidate (University of Tasmania) is Nurse Manager, Infection Management and Control Service at Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW Australia