King's College London
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From Microbes to Matrons


colour photograph of a syringe, c. 1950Glass and metal syringe, c. 1950. Wellcome ImagesImproving the sterility and supply of syringes was an important feature of post-Second World War strategies for controlling hospital infection.

Indeed, many hospital bacteriologists decried the weak antiseptic properties of syringe sterilising liquid and the fact that nursing staff placed unsterile syringes in this liquid for too short a time.

Following the Medical Research Council’s 1945 publication, The Sterilization, Use and Care of Syringes, many hospitals began planning for centralised facilities for syringe preparation to lessen the infection risk posed by contaminated syringes.

black and white photograph of the Central Syringe Service, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, 1964The Central Syringe Service at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, 1964. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde ArchivesSt Thomas’s was one of the first to establish syringe facilities in 1952, followed by the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1954, the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh in 1958 and King’s in 1960.

Further recommendations were included in the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust’s 1957 report The Planning and Organisation of Central Syringe Services. Syringes were typically sterilized in a hot-air oven, and before each batch of syringes were issued to the wards, bacteriological examinations were performed to ensure they were sterile. After use, syringes were returned for re-processing.

By 1958, the St Thomas’ service processed 900 syringes and 1,100 needles each day, while in 1964, the Edinburgh service processed 1,500 syringes per day and issued more in disposable form.

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