Dangerous DHB practices revealed

Two sterile supply technicians spoke to Working Life under the condition of anonymity (so as not to risk their employment) about conditions at their respective DHBs.

health dangerA sterile supply technician who works in the North Island says hospitals have been overruling what manufacturers say about single-use equipment.

“The reason they are single use is because they are hard to clean or the sterilisation process doesn’t sterilise them properly once they are used once.”

The sterilisation departments claim they are being pushed aside by surgeons and nurses, despite having trained specifically in the theory and science behind sterilisation. 

“Unfortunately it comes down to budget rather than what’s better for the patient,” he says.

While his DHB is taking measures to be increase safety – when he first started they were reusing the cord cutting clamps for umbilical cords – the technician is concerned about what the public don’t know.

A South Island sterile supply technician believes things haven’t gotten better and sterile supply technicians are undervalued.

“Single use items are just that: single use,” she says, referring to a standard ruling that indicates “an item labelled as or intended for single use shall not be reprocessed or reused.”

The role of sterile services and sterile supply technicians is “pivotal” to the provision of surgery within hospitals, she says.

“The role of the sterile supply technician is to ensure that when a patient goes for surgery they not only get operated on by an experienced surgeon, but that the equipment is decontaminated, cleaned and put through a sterilisation process by a sterile supply technician who has an in-depth knowledge of the theory and science behind that work.”

In 2016 it was discovered, she says, that a South Island DHB thought it was okay to reuse clearly marked “single use” vaginal pessaries on women as long as they had gone to sterile services.

Only last month, it was reported by TVNZ that nurses at Waitemata DHB had advised an elderly cancer patient to hand wash his single use catheter and then reuse it – going against the instructions on his packaging and advice of his GP.

“This was going into a sterile body cavity and he surely would be giving himself an infection which would require costly antibiotics when they could have just given him another catheter.”

When the Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman was questioned about it in Parliament he was shocked.

“I find that pretty unlikely because that would be a source of infection, so that would not be correct for the core practice. And I would find it hard to believe that is really happening.”

Yet, according to sterile supply technicians at DHBs across the country, it is happening.

“There are numerous more cases of this kind of action out there,” says the sterile supply technician from the South Island.

“The public would be horrified to know what is happening. NZSSA and sterile services are trying to stop these practices but face an uphill battle.” 

By Jess McAllen