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Medical Refrigeration in Care Homes: Safety, Stability, Quality and Reliability
Medical refrigeration is a topic that any hospital, pharmacy or medical facility must take seriously. The same applies to care homes, which handle and manage medication on a daily basis for their residents. The correct storage of medicines and vaccines is essential to ensure drugs maintain their effectiveness, and failure to store them properly can lead to serious problems.
Care homes must follow the same rules and procedures as hospitals and other medical facilities to ensure they are storing medicines safely. According to The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), all care homes should adhere to a written policy, which gives staff information on how to;
o Share information about medicines
o Keep records about medicines
o Deal with any mistakes that may happen
o Review and accurately list the medicines
o Order, receive, store and disposal
o Give medicines to people in their care
Former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, recognised the problem in February, after a study revealed that drug errors in England were causing harm and - in some cases - death. It reported that pharmacists, hospitals and care homes may be making as many as 237 million errors a year - the equivalent of one mistake made for every five drugs handed out.
Why Correct Storage Is Essential
Not only can storing certain medicines at the wrong temperature shorten their shelf life by affecting the composition of the drugs, but it can even be dangerous to the end user. If drugs are not stored correctly, they can quickly become ineffective. This may waste considerable amounts of money when batches are ruined and have to be disposed of.
All medication in care home facilities must be safely stored under lock and key, so that only authorised persons can have access. Common medications in care homes which must be refrigerated include insulin, eye/ear/nose drops, injections, creams and even vaccines.
The only safe way to store certain medications and vaccinations is in a medical refrigeration unit. Even slight temperature deviations can ruin medications, so only the very best medical refrigeration products should be used. This means standard domestic fridges designed for storing food and drink must never be used for this purpose. They simply cannot provide the same strict temperature control and monitoring that specialist medical fridges offer.
What to Look For in a Medical Fridge
There are many factors that make refrigerators suitable for storing medicines and vaccinations.
Firstly, a medical fridge will have very strict temperature controls. A suitable fridge keeps the temperature stable and prevents it from fluctuating too much, which is a common problem with standard fridges.
Secondly, a medical fridge will not only measure the temperature of the air inside the fridge; it will also measure the temperature of the medication itself. This is the temperature that really matters and it must be kept stable, so measuring the air temperature alone is not sufficient. The temperature should be recorded on a daily basis by staff.
How to Store Medicines Correctly
As you probably know, storing medicines is not the same as storing food and drink in a normal domestic fridge. There are a few rules to follow to ensure your medicines and vaccinations are stored properly, as follows:
Always keep medicines in their original packaging to protect them from the light and make them easy to identify alongside other medicines. This will help staff identify who the medicine is for.
Never overfill the fridge. The maximum capacity should remain at 75%, and storing the fridge with more medicines than this could lead to a build-up of ice that can affect the temperature control.
Pay close attention to the position of medicines and vaccines inside the refrigerator. They should be carefully placed so they are not touching the back wall, which can adversely affect their temperature. There should also be a 1cm gap between them; again, this helps to keep the temperature stable.
Correct Fridge Maintenance Guidance
While all medical fridges are different, there are a few guidelines to follow with whichever one you use to make sure you look after it and ensure the integrity of the medicines kept within.
Electrical safety is imperative in a care home, make sure your medical fridge is in good working order. You should always check the wires regularly and carry out an annual servicing or calibration using an expert service. Also check the integrity of your electricity supply – sockets and switches in particular – to ensure they are safe to use.
Also check for the build-up of ice. As mentioned, this can become a problem, especially if the fridge is filled to over 75% capacity. Ice can affect the temperature control of the medicines, so defrost the fridge if you need to. If there is a build-up of ice inside the appliance, check the door seal to see if it has been crushed and is therefore not sealing properly.
It is also worth considering taking out a maintenance contract to ensure that your fridge is serviced regularly and works as it should.
Advantages of Choosing the Right Fridge
Choosing the right fridge for your care home is essential. Doing so will help to prevent vaccines and other valuable medicines from being ruined. Losing vaccines and medicines can be expensive as well as dangerous and a good quality fridge will greatly reduce the risk.
By keeping your medicines fresh and safe, you will be able to give the best possible care to your residents. Using suitable medical refrigeration in your facility should be considered essential to prevent problems with your medicines and make financial savings.