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Instrument Decontamination: Ensuring Patient Safety in Human and Animal Health Care in the UK

Ensuring the cleanliness and sterility of medical instruments is vital for the safety of patients, whether human or animal. As medical practices evolve, so does our understanding of what constitutes effective decontamination. In the UK, where healthcare standards are meticulously monitored, understanding the procedures and importance of instrument decontamination for both human and animal health professionals is paramount.

What is Instrument Decontamination?

Instrument decontamination refers to the process of making instruments and equipment safe for use. This can be achieved by removing, deactivating, or destroying contaminants, which can range from simple dirt and debris to more harmful pathogens, like viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

Why is it Crucial?

Patient Safety: At the forefront is the safety of the patient. Whether it’s a routine dental checkup, a major surgical operation, or a veterinary procedure, using contaminated instruments can lead to infections, complications, and other health issues which threaten the well-being and recovery of patients, whether human or animal.

Professional Safety: Medical professionals can also be at risk. Handling contaminated instruments exposes them to the same pathogens as their patients, putting their health on the line.

Legal and Ethical Obligations: The UK has strict guidelines and standards set by healthcare authorities. Not adhering to these can lead to severe legal consequences and can compromise the trust placed by the public in health institutions.


What are the Differences Between Human and Animal Instrument Decontamination?

While the fundamental principles remain the same and many instruments used in human surgeries are also used in the veterinary industry, there are some nuances in the decontamination procedures for human and animal healthcare:

Types of Contaminants: The nature of pathogens in animal care can differ from human care. Certain pathogens are zoonotic, meaning they can transfer from animals to humans. Therefore, veterinary professionals might deal with contaminants that aren’t typically seen in human medicine.

Regulations: While the overarching regulatory bodies may set standards for both fields, there can be distinct guidelines or recommendations specific to human health and animal health sectors. If the instruments or equipment being reprocessed are medical devices that are used on live human patients, then the products used to clean and disinfect them must also be registered medical devices. If the instruments or equipment are used in veterinary, forensics, or laboratory settings, not on human patients, then registered medical devices are not required.

Best Practices for Instrument Decontamination in the UK

Pre-cleaning: If instruments cannot be immediately cleaned after use, then it is advisable to protect organic matter from drying and adhering to the surface of instruments, avoiding more aggressive scrubbing during cleaning which can cause damage over time. PROCESSUS Pre-Clean Instrument Spray uses an enzymatic formulation to prevent proteinaceous material from adhering to instruments prior to cleaning.

Cleaning: This involves removing visible contaminants from the instrument immediately after use, typically using enzyme-based detergents such as our PROCESSUS Enzymatic Instrument Cleaner and soft brushes. It is vital that instruments are not scrubbed aggressively, as this causes microscopic damage, which encourages the forming of biofilms and greatly increases the risk of contamination.

Ultrasonic Cleaning: This process uses ultrasonic waves in a liquid medium to dislodge fine particles and debris that might not be visible to the naked eye. Many instrument detergents, including PROCESSUS Enzymatic Instrument Cleaner, can be used in an ultrasonic bath.

Disinfection: This reduces the number of viable microorganisms but does not necessarily kill all spores or viruses. It proceeds autoclaving for many instruments but is the final step for equipment that cannot be autoclaved, such as endoscopes. The disinfectant should be tested to European standards for instrument immersion, to confirm it is appropriately effective. PROCESSUS Instrument Disinfectant has been rigorously tested to the latest European standards, including EN 13727, EN 14561, EN 13623, EN 14562, EN 14476, and EN 17111.

Sterilisation: This is the highest level of decontamination and ensures all forms of microbial life, including spores, are destroyed. Autoclaving, a process that uses steam under pressure, is the most used method of sterilisation in the UK.

Storage: Post-sterilisation, instruments should be stored in a manner that ensures their sterility until they are next used.


Whether treating humans or animals, the decontamination of instruments is a vital step in ensuring the well-being of patients and the professionals who care for them. In the UK, with its rigorous healthcare standards, there’s a continuous commitment to refining and adhering to best practices in this domain. As we advance in our medical knowledge and technologies, the process of decontamination will undoubtedly evolve, but its significance in safeguarding health will remain paramount.