Behind the scenes with our Sterilisation and Decontamination Unit

3 April 2023

We recently went behind the scenes with our colleagues in the Hospital Sterilisation and Decontamination Unit (HSDU) and looked around their facility, based at The Royal Oldham Hospital.

The 50-strong HSDU team is responsible for providing a specialist and accredited medical device decontamination and resupply service to the Trust’s hospitals and beyond, reprocessing upwards of 10,000 used surgical instruments every day so that they are made safe for the next patient application.

Here is a behind the scenes look at what they get up to on a day-to-day basis (click the images to zoom in):

The first step of the resupply process takes place in the HSDU’s Decontamination Area. Here, sets of instruments are checked and scanned into a tracking system using unique barcode identifiers, and the process begins.

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Once booked in to the HSDU’s tracking system, the sets are inspected for completeness before receiving a basic initial clean. This clean typically happens at specially calibrated sinks which dispense a water-detergent mixture at an optimal concentration and temperature.

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After this initial pre-clean, instrument sets are prepared by disassembling multi-component items and opening any joints. They are then loaded into Washer-Disinfectors. These machines are the most important part within the decontamination cycle as they strip away contamination at a molecular level, before disinfecting items with a near boil-wash at up to 95 °C.

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At this point, sets are disinfected, but not yet sterile. Sets are released from the Washer-Disinfectors into the Cleanroom – an environmentally controlled area designed to minimise contamination – where the contents are meticulously inspected by technicians within the aid of magnification and illumination. Once satisfied, technicians wearing specialist protective clothing, pack and label the sets.

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The packed set are then transferred to the HSDU’s Sterilization Area, which contains six specialist steam autoclaves. Air is removed from the sets and steam is pumped in at high pressure and high temperature (134°C to 137°C), killing any remaining microorganisms.

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Once removed from the autoclaves, sets are moved to the final product release area, where they are checked and sorted in readiness for dispatch. via their label and can be taken to their correct destination across the Trust’s hospitals and beyond.

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Thank you to the team for showing us around their facility.

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