Human waste disposal is an important consideration in healthcare facilities. Human waste can be infectious, so it is crucial that all processes minimise the infection risk for both clinicians and patients. Whilst there are various methods of waste disposal, we are comparing the two most common options available; bedpan washers and hospital macerators.

Bedpan Washer or Hospital Macerator?

A sluice room is an area within healthcare facilities, dedicated to the disposal of human waste. A sluice room should be designed and equipped to ensure that human waste is disposed of quickly and efficiently, with minimal human contact. All processes within a sluice room should follow recommended infection control guidelines, to ensure that healthcare staff and patients are not at risk of healthcare associated infections (HAIs) due to cross contamination.

There are various different methods of waste disposal that healthcare facilities may implement, the two most common options available are:

  1. Single-use system: A single-use system uses pulp products to toilet patients and hospital macerators to dispose of both the pulp item and the waste.
  2. Reusable system: A reusable system uses plastic or stainless-steel items to toilet patients and bedpan washers to clean the item before being reused by another patient.
Hospital Sluice Room, hospital macerator, disposable pulp items, human waste disposal system

Hospital Sluice Room

What is a hospital macerator?

A hospital macerator, sometimes called a pulp macerator, is designed to dispose of single-use pulp items and their contents.

To dispose of a pulp container and it’s contents, the healthcare professional will open the machine using contactless technology and place the item into the drum. The machine then saturates the contents with water and breaks it down with cutter blades into an ultra-fine slurry. At the end of the 2 minute cycle, the contents of the machine are flushed down the drain, ensuring that healthcare professionals and patients have no further contact with the item.

What is a bedpan washer?

A bedpan washer, otherwise known as a washer-disinfector, is designed to wash and disinfect reusable plastic or stainless-steel items such as bedpans and urinals. These items need to be thoroughly disinfected as they are reused by other patients.

Reusable items are placed onto the internal rack within a bedpan washing machine. Once the washing cycle is initiated, nozzles spray hot water and sometimes chemicals at the dirty items to help empty, clean and disinfect them. Both the dirty water and any larger pieces of residue are then flushed down the drain.

Bedpan Washer of Hospital Macerator?

There are several key factors you should consider when deciding which method of waste disposal is best suited to your facility.   

Infection Prevention

Preventing infection is likely the most important consideration for your healthcare facility.

Dangerous bacteria such as C. difficile and MRSA can be present in human waste. To avoid these infections spreading between patients and healthcare staff, it is crucial that waste is hygienically disposed of and any trace of harmful bacteria is removed.

To ensure patient safety, reusable bedpans must be thoroughly disinfected in a bedpan washer disinfector between each use to prevent cross-contamination. In practice, this does not always happen. An evaluation of bedpan washers found that, although the disinfection process eliminates a large share of the micro-organisms, it does not destroy bacteria such as C. difficile1. Furthermore when using bedpan washers, there are a number of high risk touch points, that can put the healthcare worker using the equipment at risk of cross contamination.

The benefit of a single-use system is that, by disposing of both the bedpan and its contents, the source of infection is fully eliminated. Hospital macerators also use contactless technology, which significantly reduces the number of touch points within the highly-infectious sluice room environment. These are the key reasons why disposable items and hospital macerators are considered the safest method of human waste disposal.

The use of a single-use system has been further advocated by the World Health Organization who have stated that all “equipment should be single-use and disposable”, in response to the Covid-19 outbreak2.

Cost

Healthcare budgets are often limited, so cost is likely to be high on your agenda of priorities.

The initial outlay for a bedpan washer is significantly higher than for a hospital macerator and will also cost you more in terms of energy, water consumption and maintenance. 

Whilst a single-use system is less costly to install and run, you do have to account for the continued cost of disposables, however, there are still costs associated with reusable items, such as the end of life cost when a plastic or metal bedpan is landfilled or incinerated.

Aside from implementation and running costs, the most important consideration for your medical facility is the significant cost of Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs). Annually HAIs are estimated to cost 7 billion in Europe and $ 6.5 billion in the USA.3 These costs include an extended length of patient hospital stay, additional antibiotic treatments and increased nursing time. The risk of transmitting a healthcare-associated infection is far greater when using a reusable system, so choosing the most effective infection prevention method, can financially benefit your healthcare facility long term.

Machine maintenance and equipment breakdown

Your human waste disposal system is a crucial feature in the smooth running of your team’s daily tasks. To ensure the highest level of safe human waste disposal, it is important to consider what ongoing maintenance your equipment will require and what your team would do in the event of a machine breakdown.   

Hopefully, equipment within your sluice room will not break down, however, it is important that you have a plan in place in case it does. Leaving soiled bedpans to pile up in your sluice room, poses a huge infection risk, so must be avoided.

If you have a bedpan washer breakdown, you will need to find an alternative way to disinfect your reusable items. It is likely that this would mean your team has to carry soiled bedpans and utensils to a sluice room further away from your ward or clean these items by hand. Both these alternatives put healthcare professionals at risk from increased exposure to contaminated waste.

Conversely, if you use disposable items, these can temporarily be disposed of in clinical bags, until your medical macerator has been repaired. This reduces the handling of infectious material and limits the amount of disruption to your team.

Choosing the right system can benefit your healthcare staff, technicians, and patients, so it is an important consideration to make.

Environmental

Health care causes a significant burden on the environment. More and more frequently, questions are being raised about healthcare facilities environmental responsibility, so it is important to consider how your facility can limit its environmental impact.

Reusable plastic bedpans must be landfilled or incinerated at the end of their life. This contributes to the 150 million metric tonnes of plastic waste that is already polluting our world. Hard plastics such as these can take more than 450 years to fully break down and add to environmental pollution.

Disposable pulp containers are made from recycled materials, such as overissued newspaper. When broken down, the fibres are similar to toilet paper and will fully biodegrade in just 6 weeks.

Hospital macerators are also far more water and energy efficient, using up to 96.5% less energy and up to 92% less water, to process the same number of items as a washer-disinfector.

Final Decision

From our comparison and evaulation of multiple studies and testimonials, it is clear that using hospital macerators and disposable bedpans, is the system of choice to reduce the risk of infection.

The system is safer for both healthcare professionals and patients, requires very little ongoing maintenance, can offer long term savings for your healthcare facility and is far better for the environment.

If you are interested in switching to a single-use system, Vernacare can provide you with the full solution. Contact us today for detailed information on how we can support you in switching to a safer human waste disposal system.

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