Autoclave performance and operator knowledge of autoclave use in primary care: A survey of UK practices

W. A. Coulter, C. A. Chew-Graham, S. W. Cheung, F. J T Burke

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    Changes in the delivery of health care have increased the demand for minor surgical and screening procedures in general practice. This has increased the risk of cross-infection with blood-borne viruses and the demand for sterile instruments. The aim of this study was to investigate the knowledge and training of medical personnel in England and Wales on aspects of autoclave use, and to test the effectiveness of their practice autoclaves. An anonymous postal questionnaire and autoclave performance survey using biological indicators was made of 700 general medical practitioners selected at random from FHSA lists from 12 Health Authorities in England and Wales. The overall response rate was 53.1% (N = 372) comprising 10% general practitioners and 90% practice nurses. Eighty-two percent of respondents used autoclaves with a mean age of 2.5 years, of which 91% had been serviced in the past year. While 35% of respondents made daily observation of gauges, 19% did not routinely monitor autoclave effectiveness. Six autoclaves failed to sterilize the spore test ampoules. Fourteen percent of respondents did not autoclave instruments after every patient. Only 33.1% reported wearing gloves during minor operations. Fifty five percent had training in cross-infection prevention. It was concluded that although there has been improvement in instrument decontamination procedures in general practice compared with previous surveys, further education of medical practitioners and practice nurses in the use of autoclaves and infection prevention and control is indicated. The failure of 2% of the autoclaves to kill spores suggests the need for increased monitoring of autoclave performance. Two-thirds of practitioners exposed themselves to increased risk of infection by carrying out minor surgery without the protection of gloves. © 2001 The Hospital Infection Society.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)180-185
    Number of pages5
    JournalJournal of Hospital Infection
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2001


    • Cross-infection
    • Education
    • General practice
    • Glove use
    • Instrument cleaning
    • Quality assurance
    • Sterilization


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