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:
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.
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.
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.
Training is carried out on the job under the supervision of more experienced colleagues working as qualified trainers. It is likely to cover:
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:
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
Sterile services technicians need to:
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.
Institute of Decontamination Sciences (IDSc),
Victory House, 400 Pavilion Drive,
Northampton NN4 7PA
Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM),
Stowe House, Netherstowe,
Lichfield, Staffordshire WS13 6TJ
Tel: 01543 266 867
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.