Care Homes must follow strict CQC guidelines to ensure medicines and vaccines are stored safely. Colin Burgess, Senior Technical Manager for refrigeration specialists Lec Medical, explains how to ensure that procedures are followed correctly and how refrigeration technology can take the pressure off busy home care staff.

A number of drugs administered in nursing homes are considered ‘cold chain’ products, which means they must be stored in a medical refrigerator, at temperatures between 2ºC and 8ºC, at all times. 

These include insulins, cancer drugs, antibiotic liquids and some pharmaceutical creams, as well as vaccines.

Ensuring these products are stored safely within a strict temperature range is essential because the active chemicals in all vaccines and some other medication can change in molecular form when exposed to temperatures which are too high or too low, with potentially damaging consequences. For example, a vaccine stored outside its recommended temperature will biodegrade more quickly, making it less effective and potentially putting patients at risk.

The CQC requirements relating to cold chain vaccines and medicines are understandably stringent. It stipulates that they should be stored in a medical fridge, and gives clear guidance on how temperatures should be monitored and recorded to ensure they are kept within the safe temperature range.

This includes:

  • Completing temperature recordings on a daily basis
  • Recording minimum, maximum and current temperatures
  • Resetting the thermometer after each reading
  • Ensuring staff understand the recommended temperature range, how and why they must read and reset the thermometer, and what to do if the fridge temperature falls outside the recommended range
  • Keeping records of any actions taken

This daily monitoring and recording is an essential task, but it is also a labour and time intensive one, which can be quite onerous for staff members who must often fit it in among a raft of other responsibilities. Human error can creep into reporting procedures, while simple actions such as leaving the fridge door open for too long can also inadvertently increase fridge temperatures. 

For care home managers wanting to ensure they comply with CQC guidelines, keep their residents safe and support dedicated but busy staff, a modern medical refrigerator is the only option.

The QCQ stresses the need to use a medical fridge that is capable of maintaining the correct temperature for the medicines being stored. It warned: “Some fridges are advertised as ‘medicines fridges’ but they may maintain temperatures in ranges that are too low or too high.” 

Advanced medical fridges such as the Lec Pharmacy Plus range remove any risk of incorrect medicines storage.

They have inbuilt technology which not only ensure vaccines and medicines are stored within a stable temperature range, but also remove the risk of human error when it comes to monitoring and recording temperatures.

The use smart technology to enable completely contactless temperature readings. Data can be downloaded directly to a phone or tablet and shared with approved personnel directly, via an app. 

This means staff no longer need to take temperatures manually and record fridge temperatures each time – freeing them up for other important care work.

Digital temperature monitoring is also far more accurate. Lec Medical has developed dual air and load probes to deliver the pinpoint temperature measurement vital to storing sensitive vaccines and medicines.

The first probe monitors the internal temperature of the fridge, while a second probe sits within a silicon oil formulated to mimic a vaccine. It means the temperature of the vaccine is monitored – not just the fridge temperature. 

If there are any power outages or a door is left open, the data will show if the fridge contents have fallen outside the recommended temperature ranges at any point.

Additionally, an intelligent fan management system prevents warm air being drawn in when the fridge door is open and automatically restarts when it closes, ensuring temperatures remain stable, while a power failure alarm with battery back-up and data retention add an extra level of safety.

Other important measures will ensure your medicines fridge operates at the highest level of efficiency including: do not fill it to more than 75% capacity to allow adequate air circulation, never store anything other than vaccines and other pharmaceutical products in it – items such as blood, food, or milk present a contamination risk and be sure to site the fridge in a well-ventilated room maintained between 10°C and 25 ̊C, away from radiators or direct sunlight, and at least 5-10 cm from walls or units.

Medical fridges are available in capacity levels ranging from 47 litres to 400 litres, so costs need not be prohibitive.

This means that even the smallest nursing home can keep expensive medicines safely stored and ensure their protect residents’ health is protected.