In the third of our series looking behind the curtain of your local NHS, we meet Dawn Dickson, team leader in Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s sterile services department.
If you were to ask someone in a hospital for directions to the sterile services department, the reply will usually be ‘sorry, I’m not sure...’. You could look for signs, but there are none.
The department, which refers to itself as the invisible team, works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Without Dawn and the team, there would be no operations, procedures or treatment taking place on wards; at least not safely.
Dawn has worked in the sterile services department for nearly 40 years. She joined in 1980 at Preston Hospital in North Shields, when her mother, who also worked in sterile services, asked if she could lend a hand while the department was short-staffed.
Dawn said: “When I first started, there were only two members of staff in the team and we had to clean everything by hand.
“Things have moved forward a lot in that time but I still love coming into work every day and doing what I do.”
With multiple sites and scores of different types of equipment to clean, disinfect and sterilise, no two days are ever the same.
The trust’s sterile services department process more than 300,000 trays and supplementary instruments every year and make sure that all equipment is ready for reuse in operating theatres and wards across North Tyneside and Northumberland.
Each one has to be perfect – there is no such thing as ‘good enough’.
For each medical device, sterile services are responsible for: Disassembling; cleaning; disinfecting; checking; reassembling; packaging; sterilising; dispatching and tracking the device.
Dawn added: “We aren’t the biggest cog in the wheel, but if we were removed, the whole system would grind to a halt.
“Staff in other areas often have their own speciality or area of expertise. We have to cover every specialty. We have to know how to dismantle and reassemble medical equipment used in every department the trust covers.
“If we didn’t do our jobs, the nurses and doctors on the frontline would not be able to do theirs. It works the same in reverse, if they didn’t do their job, we wouldn’t be here either. We are all a part of an amazing team who work together to provide the best service for our community and it has been my pleasure to do so for such a long time.”