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Sterile Service Department – What’s it all about?

Have you ever wondered what happens to all those dirty instruments used in Theatres or Clinics? I often hear people saying “What is ‘Sterile Services’, what do they do”? Well take a few minutes and allow me to introduce you to the fascinating world of decontamination.

What is Sterile Services?

A Typical Sterile Service department (SSD or HSDU Hospital Sterilising Disinfection Unit) will have typically between 20 - 80 sterile service personnel ranging from Technicians, Senior Technicians and Management Support Staff. The sterile service technician role is varied, but centres on the safe decontamination and processing of medical devices. These devices (Surgical Instruments and Flexible Endoscopes) include comprehensive re-usable surgical instrument trays, single packaged devices and consumable (disposable) packs.

A strict pattern of work is followed to prevent the risk of infection being transferred to other staff or indeed patients. Medical devices returned after use are washed and thermally decontaminated. This is done using fully automated washer / disinfector that allows for safe handling of devices. Afterwards, careful inspection of each device is carried out, often under high magnification, and a function test to ensure the device is working properly.

The instruments are then re-assembled and checked against an Instrument Check-List before being packaged in a clean room environment, either individually or as procedure sets, using special wrapping materials. Finally, packaged medical devices are placed into chambers (Autoclaves), which when sealed, are supplied with steam under pressure to destroy any remaining pathogens. After cooling the now sterilised devices are distributed to the next user.

High Quality service

Strict adherence to written operating procedures is essential and high standards of hygiene are maintained in the working environment. The Sterile Services department has to be accredited and compliant with ISO9001 / 2008, ISO 13485 and Medical Directive 93/42/EEC. This requires extremely high standards of work, including a requirement that all staff are adequately trained. The SSD and its processes are fully audited both internally and by external auditors. The quality standards are high as the life of a patient may depend on the correct equipment being available at the right time and in good working order.


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