Disposal of Used Surgical Equipment and the Benefits of Moving to Disposable Instruments-medical waste


The disposal of instruments is a tricky issue for GPs and other healthcare providers, especially under the new sterilisation rules operating in the UK. Single use, disposable, instruments can provide the answer.

Every Practice Manager and Theatre Manager in the country will naturally want to make their Practice as environmentally friendly as possible, but the disposal of used medical instruments can be a particularly challenging consideration that can have a very serious impact on finances.

Whilst the decision on whether to sterilise equipment or to use disposable packs does have very real cost implications; as of 31 March, all instruments in use must comply with the Medical Devices Directive.

Complying with the Directive rules requires Practices either to use single-use instruments, or to send their instruments to a fully accredited sterile services department. The Healthcare Commission has responsibility to ensure all standards are met.

For a unit to Achieve compliance with sterile services accreditation themselves is not going to be cost-effective or practical for anything but the largest of Practices. For example, to meet its requirements can easily cost £4,000 capital, plus £3,500 each year to operate. These costs include those associated with regularly testing the sterilising machine, sterile water to fill it up each day and the time and training of the unit staff. In addition, the unit retains all the risks of processing the instruments.

This gives Theatres’ and Practices’ with the option of moving to single-use, disposable, instruments and, for those items not available as single use, contacting their primary care organisation to find out what decontamination services there are available locally.

Regional decontamination centres are gradually coming on line but for many areas there is still no service. And where a service is present, in many cases local sterilisation units will not be able to cope with any extra capacity.

Single use, disposable, instruments can be disposed of with your other clinical waste, in the sharps clinical waste at a cost of £500 to £1,500 per tonne. With single instruments being light, this generally works out to less than a penny for each item.

In comparison, for Central Sterile Supplies Department services, because instruments must be cleaned as soon as possible, you will need a weekly collection and delivery service, which adds to your costs and the environmental impact. Then, decontamination uses energy to produce high pressure steam at 134oC and needs chemicals and detergents in the process.

In short, the arguments for the adoption of single use, disposable, instruments are increasing all the time.

Can you afford to be left behind?