Sterile Services Technician

The Job and What's Involved

Infections acquired in hospital and other medical establishments are a big threat to vulnerable patients. Sterile services technicians ensure that medical devices including surgical instruments and equipment needed for patient care are safe to use. The instruments may come from operating theatres, clinics, accident and emergency departments and wards.

A technician may reprocess a range of different items, such as:

  • Surgical instruments used for specific operations.
  • Instruments used in other clinical areas such as dental practices, endoscopy units and health centres.
  • Larger and more technically complex items, such as incubators.

Tasks include:

  • Collecting items for reprocessing.
  • Undertaking the decontamination processes.
  • Disassembling, inspecting and function testing and re-assembling devices.
  • Dismantling larger items, examining them under a microscope, and reassembling them after sterilisation.
  • Operating key equipment such as washer disinfectors and sterilisers.
  • Maintaining computerised tracking and traceability records of all devices.
  • Distributing sterilised packs to users.

The work of sterile services staff is carried out to strict European and national standards in order to minimise the risk of cross-infection. A high level of health and safety protection is in place to safeguard staff working in this environment.

Technicians work in teams. They are responsible to the manager of the sterile services department (sometimes known as the decontamination service) and are an integral part of the healthcare team.

Sterile services technicians generally work 37 hours a week. In larger departments, staff provide services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which means technicians may be involved in shift work. Part-time work is possible.

Departments may be located within hospitals or off-site and may be run by hospital management or by commercial providers.

While carrying out decontamination and sorting sterilised items, technicians must wear protective clothing to prevent cross-contamination. This includes hats, overalls, gloves and visors. The working environment can be humid.

The work can be physically demanding. It involves some lifting, pushing trolleys, and standing for periods at a workstation to oversee equipment.

Starting salaries for trainee sterile services technicians are £12,922 a year. Staff working in London can earn additional allowances.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most sterile services technicians work at major National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in all parts of the UK. Some work in private hospitals. Others work in health centres and dental practices. At present, around 20,000 people work in decontamination services.

Vacancies are advertised in the local press, on the NHS jobs website and through Jobcentre Plus offices.

Education and Training

There are no formal qualifications for entry. However employers may ask for GCSE (A*-C) in English, maths and a science subject, or equivalent qualifications. Entrants should be able to show good communication and teamwork skills.

Previous related experience, working in controlled environmental conditions, as in laboratories or pharmaceutical manufacturing areas, is useful.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is carried out on the job under the supervision of more experienced colleagues working as qualified trainers. It is likely to cover:

  • Role and requirements of the service.
  • Legislation, health and safety and other risk issues.
  • Infection control and basic microbiology.
  • Specific requirements for cleaning, inspection, function testing, packaging and sterilisation.
  • Management of materials and transportation.
  • Tracking and traceability of packs and other resources.
  • Records.

After successful completion of the learning programme, technicians can opt to complete their technician training through a Technical Certificate Award or take NVQ Level 3 in health (decontamination).

To gain a management position, sterile services staff need to become members of the Institute of Decontamination Sciences (IDSc).

They can do this by completing further training after achieving the NVQ Level 3 in health (decontamination). This may take up to three years.and options include:

  • Studying towards a qualification in supervisory management, such as an NVQ Level 3 in supervisory management or an Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) First Line Management Certificate.
  • Gaining a management qualification at a higher level, such as NVQ Level 4 in management or the ILM Diploma in Management.
  • Training in anatomy and physiology, microbiology, quality management and current legislation.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Sterile services technicians need to:

  • Be scrupulous with personal hygiene.
  • Be good communicators, both orally and in writing, with good levels of numeracy and literacy.
  • Have good physical fitness.
  • Be skilled at performing tasks with their hands.
  • Have good eyesight, with glasses or contact lenses if necessary.
  • Be able to follow strict procedures, using detailed written instructions.
  • Be able to concentrate for a long time.
  • Have good teamworking skills.
  • Be able to work quickly and accurately.
  • Be flexible, as the job involves shifting between different tasks.

Your Long Term Prospects

A technician may progress through senior technician and supervisor level posts to become manager of a sterile services department.

Experienced managers may be able to move into general health service management.

There may be opportunities to work in hospitals abroad.

Get Further Information

Institute of Decontamination Sciences (IDSc),
Drumcross Hall, Bathgate EH48 4JT
Website: www.idsc-uk.org

Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM),
Stowe House, Netherstowe,
Lichfield, Staffordshire WS13 6TJ
Tel: 01543 266 867
Website: www.i-l-m.com

NHS Careers
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Websites: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk
and www.stepintothenhs.nhs.uk

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