Infection Prevention and Control Guidelines – Frequently Asked Questions about general practice accreditation
The RACGP and APNA’s Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Guidelines were developed to provide guidance for practices surrounding key principles of infection prevention and control.
In recent weeks, our team has received many questions regarding the IPC Guidelines and how they impact general practices preparing for accreditation, particularly seeking clarification around mandatory training qualifications and reprocessing requirements.
The RACGP and APNA hosted a webinar on 14 March 2023 discussing the updates to the IPC Guidelines and what this means for practices, which is available to be viewed on-demand.
Frequently asked questions at the webinar are answered below, all of which have been shared via the RACGP’s FAQ fact sheet and can be viewed on the RACGP website.
What has changed in the IPC Guidelines?
While wholesale changes were made when updating the IPC Standards to Guidelines, the updated IPC Guidelines do not implement new requirements that are not already in place via the Standards for general practices, Australian Standards and Australian/New Zealand Standards, national guidelines (including the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare), or other national or jurisdictional legislation.
Is there a minimum qualification required for infection prevention and control coordinators for practice leads?
While some states in Australia have requirements for practising as an infection control professional, there is currently no minimum or standardised educational requirement, to coordinate an organisational infection prevention and control program.
Is there a minimum qualification required for reprocessing reusable medical devices?
While there are recommended qualifications for reprocessing, there is no minimum requirement. Practices must ensure that staff involved in reprocessing have received adequate education, training and regular competency assessment, and that these activities are documented.
Is a washer/disinfector mandatory in general practice?
Washer/disinfectors are not mandatory.
Immediate cleaning of reusable medical devices can involve manual cleaning, the use of an ultrasonic cleaner followed by manual cleaning, or the use of a washer/disinfector that may incorporate an ultrasonic cycle.
Can a practice have its reprocessing area in a treatment room?
The current AS/NZS 4187, and draft new standard AS 5369, are clear that there must be segregation between clean and dirty activities.
There must be segregation of reprocessing areas from administrative and treatment areas, to reduce risk of contamination and minimize bio-burden. Separation of the reprocessing area segregates clean and dirty areas.
Is manual cleaning acceptable in general practice?
While manual cleaning is ultimately acceptable under the current standard, it is a difficult method to validate and best practice is to move away from manual cleaning where an automated process can be used.
Importantly, practices should have a process for cleaning, whether that’s mechanical or manual, that is compatible with the reusable medical devices it uses. The process needs to be in accordance with the validated cleaning instructions provided by the manufacturer of the reusable medical device.
Please note: Further changes to the IPC Guidelines may occur when the new standard AS 5369: Reprocessing of reusable medical devices and other devices in health and non-health related facilities is released, as AS 5369 will supersede existing standards AS/NZS 4815 and AS/NZS 4187 which inform best practices to which the RACGP Standards are created. Standards Australia have indicated that AS 5369 may be released in 2023, however the release timeline has not been confirmed.
How do the IPC Guidelines assist with accreditation against the RACGP Standards?
The IPC Guidelines are a useful tool for helping practices meet accreditation requirements relating to infection prevention and control. RACGP Standards primarily refer to IPC in Criterion GP4.1, relating to:
- Having an IPC coordinator
- Having a written IPC policy
- Ensuring that all practice staff manage risks related to IPC, and
- Ensuring that patients are informed about aspects of IPC relevant to them.
Some other areas within the RACGP Standards that may be relevant to IPC:
C3.3A: a practice’s IPC policy may form part of its emergency response plan
C8.1A: non-clinical staff need training appropriate to their role and our patient population, which may include IPC
QI3.1A, QI3.1B: having systems and processes to support IPC helps to identify, implement, and test solutions to prevent near misses and adverse events
GP1.1B: IPC policy can contribute to effective triage and consultation types that meet patient needs
GP1.2A: IPC policy contributes to safe provision of home and other visits
GP5.1A-F: when setting up and maintaining facilities, the practice must consider IPC principles, and
GP5.3A: some equipment in the doctor’s bag is dictated by IPC principles.