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International Infection Prevention Week - interview with Paul Weaving

Infection Control Nurse Consultant Paul Weaving discusses infection prevention careers, his own vital work and how to prevent the spread of infection.

Published on 20 October 2021

The theme of this year’s International Infection Prevention Week is ‘make your intention infection prevention’. So we spoke to Infection Control Nurse Consultant Paul Weaving to find out a little more about the incredible work he does.

Paul also gave us some advice on starting a career in infection prevention (IP) as well as how we ourselves can prevent the spread of infection.

To celebrate International Infection Prevention Week, can you tell us what you like best about working in IP?

I would have to say the variety. I’ve worked in infection prevention and control since 2000.

Since then, I’ve dealt with everything from norovirus outbreaks to a suspected case of Ebola virus disease, to ensuring that surgical instruments are safe to use and that the ventilation in the operating theatres works properly.

I’ve worked with staff and patients in just about every area of health and social care, from a specialist cancer hospital in central London to a memorably remote farmhouse in the North Pennines.

Patients may be at more or less risk of infection depending on their circumstances and any procedures being carried out. But that risk is never zero, and it can always be reduced through good practice.

What would you say to someone looking to start their career in this field?

Speak with the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) team at your local health board and ask if you can spend some time with them. Many health boards have networks of interested people who act as ‘links’ or champions for infection prevention in the areas where they work and this can be a great way to develop your interest.

There are also some short courses that you can do online that can improve your knowledge in the specialty. This infection prevention course from Bangor University is free, and was shortlisted in last year’s Nursing Times Awards.

Can you tell us about your career so far?

I worked as an operating theatre nurse from qualifying, so IP was an essential part of practice right from the start of my nursing career. I was the ‘link’ nurse for infection prevention and control in my department and eventually did a short IPC course, which made me even more interested in the specialty.

Shortly after that I got my first job in IPC, looking after mental health and community services in North Cumbria. I was the only IPC nurse in the organisation and was suddenly expected to know everything – I think it was the steepest learning curve of my life.

After some years in Cumbria I had a complete change of scene and went to be the lead IPC nurse at The Royal Marsden cancer hospital in London, where I got to write the chapter on infection prevention for two editions of the Marsden Manual. The Marsden Manual is one of the most well-known nursing textbooks so I was really pleased to be asked to do this.

Next, I was the Associate Director for IPC at the North Middlesex Hospital, before moving to Scotland in 2017. I then spent some time as an independent consultant and teaching on the MSc in Infection Prevention and Control at Dundee University, before joining Health Protection Scotland (as it was) at the beginning of 2020, just in time for the pandemic.

Most of my work since then has involved helping to support health boards and other care providers with managing COVID-19 in their organisations. In the future, I will be working more with the new NHS Scotland Assure service, helping to support health boards with new hospitals and other capital projects.

This year’s theme is ‘make your intention infection prevention’. What is your top tip that we can adopt into our day to day life to help prevent the spread of infections?

Number one is get vaccinated. Vaccines have done more than almost anything else to limit the spread of infectious diseases – just compare the numbers of children with polio before and after the introduction of the vaccine in the 1950s. Obviously at the moment that means getting your COVID-19 and flu vaccinations when they’re offered.

There are other things you can do to help prevent infection with COVID-19 and other respiratory infections, like wearing a mask when you’re indoors with people not in your household, and making sure that the ventilation is as good as it can be – I’m always opening windows.

Hand hygiene is another easy win, and easier than ever now that so many places have alcohol hand rub available. Good hand hygiene helps protect you against all sorts of infections, not just COVID-19.