Published: 03/06/2004, Volume II4, No. 5908 Page 7

The project for the reform of hospital decontamination services in England could be expanded, delaying its launch for up to a year.

Under the NHS decontamination strategy for England, sterile service departments will be closed in many hospitals and moved to a network of 120 super-centres run with the private sector.

The initiative has been driven by the need to update a crumbling infrastructure and reduce the risk of vCJD transmission via surgical instruments. The pathfinder project involves Bradford Teaching Hospitals trust and The Leeds Teaching Hospitals trust. It has reached the final stages of competitive tendering and was scheduled to be up and running by 2005.

However, a third trust may still enter the consortium, inevitably delaying the projects.

A further 18 trusts are already advertising for bids in the first wave of the scheme and another 24 will come on board later this year.

National Association of Theatre Nurses chair Melanie van Limborgh said: 'Before the agenda rolls out too quickly it would be prudent to look at the findings from the pathfinder site.' She added: 'The quality of this service is paramount.'

Logistics would be a major challenge for a centralised service because so many instruments would be in transit at any one time, she explained. 'We need to know that we have the right instruments so that we can change our plans at a moment's notice.'

Birmingham's Hospital Infection Research Laboratory director Dr Adam Fraise commented: 'The problem that needs to be addressed whenever you have an off-site facility is to ensure that all the instruments can be available at the point of use when required.

It would be ideal for all district general hospitals to have a stateof-the-art facility but this is impractical because of the capital costs involved.'