Sterilisation rule changes will cost £10k per practice

GP practices that sterilise medical equipment on site face increases of more than £10,000 a year in costs when European Union (EU) rules take effect in April, LMC leaders warn. The rules will force the 90 per cent of practices with in-house sterilisation to adhere to tougher standards for maintaining equipment, training staff and locating it in their practice.

Primary care organisations have to ensure contractors meet the standards, set out in directive 93/42/EEC, from 1 April. Practices should be able to demonstrate that they comply.

A case study by Wessex LMCs has found that a practice that currently faces costs of around £9,500 a year to maintain sterilisation equipment would have to pay around £24,000 to keep it going under the new regulations.

LMC leaders say this can only remain a viable option if practices sell sterilisation services to neighbouring GPs.

The study found that switching to an external sterilisation service would still bring a sharp hike in costs. The practice would face a £16,000 annual bill for its closest service, double its current costs.

However, switching to single-use equipment was a cost-effective alternative.

The cost of single-use kits offered by two suppliers was found to be only fractionally higher than the practice’s current costs.

GPC member Dr Trefor Roscoe said cost increases of this magnitude were ‘typical’ because of the new regulations. His practice does a large amount of minor surgery on site, and sterilised its own equipment until last year.

But he said: ‘We went to single-use equipment about a year ago because one of our sterilisers would have needed replacing soon.’

He said buying new sterilisers would have been costly and the EU regulations would have vastly increased paperwork.

‘You have to keep a record of the procedures each piece of equipment has been used for — a better audit trail is part of the changes. It makes a nonsense of keeping sterilisation going in general practice,’ he said.

Dr Roscoe said an external service was also impractical. He said a practice with five minor surgery kits could need to buy more to cope with the wait for equipment to return from sterilisation centres.

He said that initial misgivings about the standard of single-use minor surgery kits had proven unfounded.

But he added: ‘It’s daft. We’ve never had problems with cross contamination in general practice. We knew what we were doing. Single-use kits are a bit of a waste of resources.’

Do you think single-use surgical equipment is an environmentally friendly option? Write to GPletters@ haymarket.com

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