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Behind-the-scenes team keeps hospital ticking

Published:  08 January 2021

They’re a 24/7 team of specialty nurses who are integral to the hospital providing safe health care to the community; however, most people outside of health have no idea they exist.

Townsville University Hospital’s central sterilising department (CSD) team comprises 40 nurses who undergo special training to make sure that each and every piece of equipment that is sent to theatres, dental clinics, birth suite or any other hospital space is completely sterile.

2020 has proven to be one of their busiest on record, with almost one-and-a-half million individual pieces of equipment being cleaned and sterilised this year, surpassing last year’s total of 1.4 million.

CSD nurse unit manager Marg Bathurst said instruments were divided up by ‘trays’, with the team processing on average 960 trays per month consisting of between one and 100 instruments each.

“Each different type of surgery requires a different tray, so a cardiac surgery will require a tray of 100 pieces of equipment including retractors, clamps and specialty forceps, and a birthing tray may require a tray of 50 pieces of equipment including delivery forceps, retractors and scissors and needle holders.

“There are 5,573 different tray combinations.”

Marg said the sterilising process ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and was a multi-stepped process.

“The first step for each piece of equipment is the washroom where we do the primary clean; different pieces of equipment need to be washed in different ways depending on what they are,” Marg said.

“The equipment then has the water blown off and then onto drying.

“We then do a physical check, including with a magnifying glass to make sure there is nothing left on the equipment.

“Finally, the item is individually wrapped and then sterilised using either heat and steam or cool plasma, again depending on the item, before being put back onto a tray and sent back out, ready for the next patient.

“To completely clean and sterilise a tray takes hours.”

Marg said CSD was an essential cog in daily hospital operations.

“CSD plays such a vital role in the hospital environment; every piece of equipment that comes into contact with the body must be free from all microbial elements,” she said.

“However, it’s the kind of thing that people don’t really think about before they go in for surgery or a procedure.

“We also need to be here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so that if a clinician urgently needs a piece of equipment we can make sure it’s ready to go.

“It’s a fascinating place to work and we all really enjoy playing our part.”

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