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All medical devices and equipment used in either a hospital or community environment may become contaminated with biological, chemical or radioactive material and thus present a risk to those subsequently handling or using them.

Decontamination is the combination of processes used to make a reusable item safe for handling by staff and further use on or by patients. Processes can include: cleaning; cleaning followed by disinfection; and cleaning followed by sterilization. The effective decontamination of reusable items is essential in reducing the risk of transmission of infectious agents.

Decontamination should always be carried out in accordance with the equipment manufacturer's instructions.

Devices intended for single use only are not provided with reprocessing instructions. Users should therefore contact the manufacturer in order to determine the most appropriate method of decontaminating a single-use device that is to be returned to the manufacturer for investigation.

Safe systems of work

In each trust or organisation a senior member of staff should be identified as having responsibility for managing all aspects of decontamination.

Items subject to inspection, service or repair (either on site or at the manufacturer's / agent's premises) should be decontaminated appropriately prior to these activities. Any loaned items being returned to a manufacturer or supplier should also be decontaminated.

Once the decontamination process has been completed the items should be labelled with a declaration to identify their status.

Guidance on decontamination

Cleaning is an essential prerequisite for disinfection or sterilization.Where possible, use automated cleaning methods instead of washing by hand. In some cases cleaning alone may be sufficient. If after cleaning it is necessary to disinfect or sterilize the item, the chosen method must be compatible with the item and not damage it.

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