It’s a Very, Very, Mad World.

I was asked by the team to share my thoughts on the IPC world, the view from the delegate world and the challenging circumstances we have found ourselves facing today. Here goes….

Shout. Shout. Let it all out. These are the things I can do without. Come on.  I’m talking to you. Come on. Social Distancing.  Self-isolation. Covid-19. Lockdown. Queues to get into a supermarket but not at the checkout? No after work pint with friends at the local. No football or cricket. Have I got enough toilet roll? Everybody wants to rule the TV Remote Control. PPE. Should I wear a face mask? How best to work from home? Is zoom safe? I do not wish to repeat the words of wiser and more learned colleagues who are far better placed to give opinions on our current circumstances. I don’t want to spread hearsay and gossip by repeating rumours such as whether PPE is being used correctly by the correct people, and not selfishly being used to create selfies on social media. Donald Trump for instance, is a far more learned source of advice on disinfectants and what constitutes fake news. Rant over with thanks to Tears for Fears.

To get back on track,  as I mulled on my role as Head of Delegate Activity and Communications,  I thought at this moment in time, sat at my kitchen table, it would be a good opportunity to reflect on some personal observations and share some general musings from the last decade.

 I first stepped into this world back in 2009, fresh from 20 years as a restaurant manager. My first foray into IPC was in Scotland. A conference led by then Scottish Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The venue in Edinburgh I felt was going to be a tough challenge to fill for someone who thought clostridium difficile was a tough Latin crossword clue from The Times. I was surprised by the willingness to engage and to seize the opportunity. From the Highlands to the Islands without objection they flocked with enthusiasm and cheer. Planes, trains and automobiles and in some instances, ferries were all used with attendees from the Orkneys and Shetlands joining their mainland colleagues. Armed with only a phone and a list of numbers we used to batter our way past switchboards in a direct approach which proved to be well received. My first attempts in England led to some hesitation and suspicion of our motives.

A major sea change was required to gain the trust and respect of the IPC community in England and Wales. The first step was internet access, social media and a better understanding. This led us to an intelligence-based approach where we began to listen to our potential delegates, gain their trust, and understand their fears and concerns. The information we received was fed into our production team. They then were able to start producing events that aligned with the groundswell of opinion, and which learning opportunities best tackled current targets.  I am proud to see the subsequent annual growth in attendance and the positive response we receive from you all as our programmes are announced. I am also grateful for the responses and interaction we get when asking for input.

As our confidence grew as a team, so did the candour of our audience who began to tell us about life in the trenches. I remember back in 2012 being told of “doctors to posh to wash” and issues with consultants who refused to comply with bare below the elbow. We became able to engage in debates over the efficacy of materials such as honey, silver and copper. Another common discussion was over the comparative merits of UVC versus HPV, and the correct environments to use them. Over time the conversations about the basics became fewer, perhaps showing the reward for your efforts as a collective. That was until this year, when it became obvious a new team of IPC specialists were identifying these age-old problems as issues again. Another re-occurring issue became the significance of auditing results. Just a tick box exercise for the trusts’ boards? 100% compliance-well done?! Maybe not. Here she comes with the clipboard, I’II just go wash my hands singing happy birthday.

Health Ministers come and go but infection prevention never stands still. The first minister I encountered was Andy Burnham under Labour, before the (Conservatives/Coalition) governments of austerity and reform under first Andrew Lansley, then Jeremy Hunt (Who on a personal aside I grew to respect), and latterly Matt Hancock. As we became collaborators with NHSE/I leaders it was a shock to hear of the concerns around the E-coli targets and ambition from 2016. Many of you were quick to appreciate the underlying need and many of you readily understood a need for quick adoption of new practice. The most common question I was asked back then was not why but “how do we?”.

It has been a privilege to be invited into your world and even to be invited to visit some of your hospitals and internal meetings. I have learnt to listen and ask questions, and you have all kindly and patiently explained the issues in lay terms to me. It has been fabulous to hear of local projects that have achieved stunning results. It has also been great to connect silos of activity that might otherwise have remained in ignorance of others tackling similar projects. I have been able to feel your passion and strongly held beliefs in the day to day fight to tackle HCAIs in all settings. Along the way we have shared much chocolate cake and coffee! We have also had a lot of fun and laughter. I was going to share the story of how a delegate gave me a telephone number to contact her and I ended up speaking to a lift that was stuck on the third floor at Watford General, but that can wait for another day.

 Of late some of you have asked us to help with identifying technology or innovation that can be applied to a specific objective you are dealing with locally. Our exhibition team travel to trade shows around the world to identify these solutions and we are always happy to make an introduction that might lead to a trial or discussion, you just need to ask. We may not always be successful, but we are happy to try. As our reputation has spread, we are now operating internationally in the Middle East with other ventures in Europe and North America under consideration.

In these tough times now, on behalf of the Knowlex team, I want to express our gratitude to you all for your effort and personal sacrifice, as well as those of your teams. A genuine and heartfelt appreciation of the work you do to keep everybody safe and well. We look forward to seeing you all again on the other side with a fresh new programme of new additional activities to supplement our existing and established events. Thank you so much for the time and trust you have invested in us.

Best wishes David Nicholls
As a Liverpool fan it would be remiss of me not to leave my final thought as YNWA.