King's College London
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From Microbes to Matrons

Sterilization and Centralisation

black and white photograph of two nurses sterilising bandagesNurses at King's College Hospitals sterilising bandages in protective clothing, c. 1960. King's College Archives, KH/NL/PH9/5King’s College Hospital was home to the first bacteriological laboratory in Britain in 1885. Edgar Crookshank, house surgeon at the hospital, offered King’s £1000 to establish a bacteriological laboratory following his work with Koch identifying the bacterial cause of tuberculosis in 1882. 

His efforts resulted in his appointment as the first British Professor of Comparative Pathology and Bacteriology. Other hospitals established their own bacteriological laboratories soon after.

Bacteriology had become embedded into hospital practice and into the medical curricula by the early twentieth century. It informed clinical decisions and became a legitimate professional branch of medicine. 

In the mid twentieth century, bacteriologists also played a key role in tackling the re-emergence of hospital infection resulting from rising antibiotic resistance and cross-infection. 

They established and chaired hospital Infection Control Committees, which developed new hospital wide strategies to prevent and combat infection. Strategies included improved sterilisation techniques and technologies and ensuring that hospital staff wore masks when handling non-sterile material. 

black and white photograph of sterilizers, King's College Hospital, c. 1960Sterilizers, King's College Hospital, c. 1960. King's College Archives, KH/NL/PH9/5 Infection Control Committees also played a key role in establishing Central Sterile Supply Departments (CSSD). These new hospital departments, typically supervised by a senior nurse, bacteriologist or pharmacist, sterilised all hospital instruments, dressings and clothing centrally and distributed them across the hospital. 

In 1958, St Thomas’ CSSD sterilised all dressings for wards, theatres, and all departments in 115,000 sterilising drums. From the 1960s, these dressings came prepared and distributed as sterilised dressing packs. Between April and May 1964, packs issued increased from 15,500 per month to 65,000 an expansion of 400%. 

 

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