Knowing how to carry out suction on a patient struggling to breathe can undoubtedly save a life.

The machines to help facilitate this become more advanced all the time. However, the skills and intuition required to use the equipment correctly also need to be regularly updated and reinforced.

Why suction is needed

The increasing numbers of older people in the UK means that there are more vulnerable elderly residents and patients. They can quickly become affected by an inability to clear the secretions that have gathered in their lower or upper respiratory tracts.

Suction assistance is also needed sometimes when a patient has an endotracheal or tracheostomy tube, or some other artificial airway. These are believed to add to the production of mucus in some cases too.

You could come across a patient or resident who has an impaired cough reflex, for a number of reasons, including heavy sedation or a neurological issue.

In children, there is sometimes a need to assist them to breathe comfortably if a respiratory infection has produced excess secretions.

Add this to the increasing levels of allergies and respiratory problems in the UK, and a picture emerges of how common it is for health and social care staff to be faced with someone struggling to remove secretions.

The best way to learn suction procedures

The skills and insights involved are clearly focused on using the equipment provided in a correct and timely fashion. This means that suction training with practising medical professionals and some of your own peers is vital.

By discussing and rehearsing the knowledge required, you are more likely to assimilate what you need. This includes developing heightened alertness to the possibility of someone who needs help to maintain or improve their gas exchange.

Though this is a very common requirement of modern health care, it does appear to be the subject of diverse protocol. Perhaps due to differing equipment, there is a degree of lack of uniformity in how to proceed.

Having different health and social care organisation using different equipment and techniques is not a problem if the skills and understanding within the staff involved are kept up to date.

This is another reason to take time out of the workplace to attend specialist suction training courses. In that way, the latest techniques can be communicated to you – tried and trusted methodology at the cutting edge of modern medicine. These are transferable skills to any location or situation.

What you need to know about suction

Corrected suction is not simply about being able to spot the risk, act quickly and use the right equipment and technique. It also involves awareness of what could go wrong.

As with many other medical procedures that carers provide daily, having knowledge of the potential risks is important too. A well-structured suction training course will focus on minimising the side-effects.

Among the things that can happen if suction is administered incorrectly is tracheobronchial trauma. A blunt object such as a suction tube can injure the airway structure that supports the trachea and bronchi.

If you don’t act quickly enough or suction is ineffectual, you risk hypoxia in the patient – starving their tissues of oxygen – or inducing a cardiovascular problem.

You could even inadvertently cause a complete or partial collapse of a lung or the lobe of a lung (atelectasis).

There is also the ever-present danger in health care settings that in helping to assist the patient to breathe easier, you introduce bacteria into their throat, causing an infection.

The intuition to act when breathing issues arise

With all the risks in mind, suction training for health care and social care professionals is still primarily about giving the confidence to act quickly in times of need. Hesitation in these situations can literally put lives at risk.

This means that the trainee needs to be prepared for some rapid decision-making within the context of the patient’s history and medical status.

In even the most pressurised situation, proper suction training can make preparing the patient and the equipment a seamless and swift process.

The trainee needs to know which catheter to use for each situation and patient, and how far to insert it to achieve the desired effect.

It is always advisable to use the smallest catheter possible, as well as the lowest possible negative pressure. The whole procedure should be the subject of the quickest timeframe possible too. However, this all needs to be done with the assurance that all three of these things – catheter size, pressure and time – are sufficient to clear the secretions.

Suction training in a nutshell

With all this in mind, what should effective, memorable and up-to-date suction training include?

There needs to be both practical and theoretic support to explore and explain all aspects of the procedure. This extends from making a respiratory assessment through to spotting the indications that suction is needed.

For example, is the patient giving signs of difficulty in breathing, such as changes in their respiratory pattern, nasal flaring, altered consciousness or grunting? Has their skin colour changed, or is their audible or palpable secretions in their airway?

From there, the training needs to focus on suction technique and minimising side effects. This includes keeping the patient and their family (if present) informed of what you are doing and why. It also requires a clear protocol for preparing yourself for the procedure, such as clinical hand washing and using the right gloves and apron.

The patient also needs to be positioned correctly, and then you need to make a calm, clear decision on the right type and level of suction to use.

From there, what would you need to do to follow up on the procedure? When would it be appropriate to use oxygen to reinforce the procedure to clear secretions?

The best suction training would also prepare trainees for the next stage should the patient’s condition deteriorate further. How would you spot the signs that suction is proving insufficient to assist with breathing, and what would you do next? This could include basic life support techniques to use, for example.

To complete the course effectively for modern healthcare requirements, the training should also include how to document the procedure, and report any issues or anomalies.

Click here for more information about Caring for Care training courses in suction, or contact us today using the number at the top of the page (01782 563333).