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Every medical instrument or piece of equipment that comes into contact with a patient is a potential source of infection. Some people have caught infections when dirty medical instruments or equipment have been used on them. This equipment might have blood or other body fluids left on it and these could pass on infections.

Decontamination is used to reduce the number of infections that cross from one person to another - cross infection - from medical instruments, equipment or the environment. Decontamination is the term that means cleaning, disinfection and sterilisation. Link to information on cleaning, disinfection and sterilisation.

The level of decontamination used will depend on the risk involved with the medical instruments or equipment and the type of equipment.

Types of equipment

  • Reusable - can be used for more than one patient and should be suitably decontaminated between use for example commodes.
  • Single-patient use - can be used more than one time by the same patient for example nebuliser face masks and should be decontaminated between uses on the one patient.
  • Single-use - should only be used once and then disposed of for example syringes, needles.