2023 Vet Shortage in the UK: Why and What Now?

All healthcare services in the UK are currently facing a number of serious, ongoing issues. Staff shortages and industrial action have resulted in long ambulance waiting times, and there have also been reports of scores of dentists leaving the NHS.

The veterinary sector has faced similar challenges. In this post we’ll discuss the 2023 vet shortage in the UK, examining why it’s happening and exploring what might happen next.

Is There a Vet Shortage in the UK?

The UK’s veterinary workforce relies on overseas registrants to meet required levels, but the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) figures suggest that the annual number of registrants coming to work as vets in the UK fell by 68%, from 1,132 in 2019 to 365 in 2021.

This is a significant proportion of vets in the UK as in 2019, up to 48% of new registrants had graduated outside the UK. The British Veterinary Association, the UK’s largest membership body for vets, has warned of “wide-ranging direct and knock-on impacts across the sector” as a result of severe vet shortages.

Why Is There a Shortage of Vets?

There are three underlying reasons for the UK’s current vet shortage:

  • Brexit – A major reason why the sector saw such a significant drop in overseas registrants is due to the end of free movement that followed Brexit. The process for new vets to apply for work in the UK is a lot more complicated than it was a few years ago, and as a result fewer vets overall are migrating to work in the UK.
  • The Pandemic – New laws throughout the COVID-19 pandemic required vets, nurses, and other staff members to self-isolate whenever they tested positive for the virus. This will have created a significant backlog of care, similar to the crisis the NHS is currently facing. As a result, there are more cases than staff can handle, so many practices across the country have had to close their doors to new pet registrations.
  • A Rise in Pet Ownership – New pet registrations soared during the government’s enforced COVID-19 lockdowns. This will have added even further to vets’ workload, which will have already been stretched to breaking point by the effects of the pandemic.

On top of these three issues, some vets are reporting “relentless calls and constant abuse”. Large numbers of exhausted and burnt-out vets have quit their practices. And given the ongoing problems with the labour market, many practices have struggled to replace them.

How is the Sector Managing the Vet Shortages?

We have seen some initiatives to address the vet shortages across the country.

The RCVS has released an action plan to tackle the vet shortages. Just like other healthcare workers, vets are often required to work long hours at a time multiple days in a row, often up to 60 hours a week. So among the RCVS’s proposals are a move towards more flexible working patterns for vets, nurses, and other staff.

They have also proposed to widen the role that veterinary nurses play. Throughout the pandemic years, veterinary nurses were often forced to step up to take the strain off vets. The RCVS has suggested formalising this expanded role for veterinary nurses, with corresponding pay rises and other compensations.

This action plan may make a difference in the long-term, yet given the current extent of the problem, it may be some time before the industry can properly recover.

Small Things Can Make a Big Difference

In times of crisis, it becomes vitally important that you can make full use of all of your available resources. In short, you need to be able to do more with less. We offer certain specialist solutions that will help you improve your operational efficiency with your current workforce.

For example, our DryMax absorbent mats may not look like much, but when used in your treatment rooms, each mat can absorb up to two litres of all liquids. And even when saturated, an anti-skid barrier layer will keep the mat in place and prevent the fluid from leaking any further.

These specialist absorbent mats reduce the fall risk from wet and slippery floors, and you can quickly and easily dispose of them afterwards. This will significantly reduce the time you spend cleaning between procedures. So you’ll have less down-time, and a considerably faster turnaround time, which may mean you can see more pets each day than before.

At Cairn Technology we can also supply you with the surgical instruments you need to undertake a multitude of surgical procedures on animals. This includes Bergstrom-Stille muscle biopsy cannulas, SuperCut scissors, forceps and retractors.

Get in touch to discuss how our specialist solutions and services can help you improve the operational efficiency in your veterinary practice.


How Do You Sterilise and Clean Surgical Instruments?

Surgical instruments are used exclusively in sterile spaces, and they’re specifically designed to penetrate a patient’s skin or mucous membrane.

In this post we’ll discuss some best practice techniques for cleaning and sterilising surgical instruments.

Benefits of Effective Cleaning and Sterilisation of Surgical Instruments

Infection Prevention and Control
As such, cleaning and sterilising surgical instruments before use is an essential part of infection prevention and control in hospitals.

Prolong Surgical Instrument Lifespan
Effective cleaning and sterilisation can also prolong the lifespan of surgical instruments, keeping them as sharp and effective as possible for as long as possible.

Decrease Turnaround Time
And an efficient cleaning and sterilisation process can help streamline your entire department, helping to reduce the turnaround time between procedures.

The Difference Between Cleaning and Sterilisation

There is a difference between cleaning a surgical instrument, and sterilising a surgical instrument:

  • Cleaning – Using water and disinfectant to remove organic matter.
  • Sterilising – Using chemicals or specialist equipment to remove all microbes from an object.

A surgical instrument must be sterilised before use. But it must be visibly clean before it’s ready for sterilising.

How to Clean and Sterilise Surgical Instruments

Different instruments may go through different cleaning and sterilisation processes depending on their material, and their frequency of use. But this is the general process that the majority of instruments will go through between uses.

Step 1 – Preprocessing

Following a surgical procedure, surgical instruments are treated with transport gels at the point of use. These gels prevent the drying of bioburden, which can make later cleaning and sterilisation processes faster and more effective.

Step 2 – Manual Cleaning

Once treated with transport gel, the sterile instruments are taken to a dedicated decontamination area. All instruments will then go through a manual cleaning process. Some instruments may have to be disassembled first, to ensure that all of their surfaces can be cleaned.

Ideally, the manual cleaning team will have access to a three bay sink:

  • Bay 1 – Pre-rinsing instruments with cold water to remove transport gel, and organic matter such as blood and bone.
  • Bay 2 – Immersing instruments in a solution, which will be either neutral detergent or enzymatic depending on the instrument. Following immersion, the instruments are brushed by hand.
  • Bay 3 – Final rinsing. Depending on the instrument, manufacturers may recommend different treatments for the rinse water. If the water’s too hard, it can lead to spotting. Chloride levels can also damage instruments, and microorganism levels can lead to cross-contamination.

Step 3 – Automated Washing

Following the manual cleaning, surgical instruments will go through a specialist automated washing process. This is the sterilisation stage, where any microorganisms will be removed and killed.

Different instruments will require different equipment and processes, including:

  • Disinfectors – The instruments are sprayed with pressurised water at a predefined temperature, flow, and chemical concentration. Manufacturers will recommend the optimum parameters for each instrument.
  • Ultrasonic Cleaning – Some surgical instruments have delicate, hard-to-reach features including hinges and crevices. Automatic disinfector machines may not effectively clean these areas, so ultrasonic cleaning processes are used instead. This involves using high-frequency sonic waves to clean the entire surface of an instrument, often alongside low-foaming enzymatic cleaning agents. Instruments must be thoroughly washed with soft water following ultrasonic cleaning.

Step 4 – Storage

Following the cleaning process, surgical instruments are labelled to indicate the date they were cleaned. They are then carefully transported to, and stored within, a sterile environment until they’re ready for use again.

Essential Tips For Caring For Your Surgical Instruments

You’ll find many guides on our site to help you keep your surgical instruments sterile and in good working order for as long as possible:

We also specialise in supplying high quality instruments for use in all surgical disciplines. If you’d like to discuss your surgical instrument requirements, get in touch to talk to an expert today.

Operating Theatre Staff Roles and Responsibilities

It takes a lot of people to run a successful operating theatre. The most efficient operating theatre is one in which everyone knows their own role and responsibilities, as this means that everyone can depend on everything being done that needs to be done.

In this post we’ll explore the various operating theatre staff roles, and the key responsibilities for each member of the team.

Outline of Operating Theatre Staff Rolls

Please note that this is a general list of operating theatre staff roles. Specific theatres might have specific roles, and many members of the team will share responsibilities as the situation demands. So please don’t treat this list as a definite hierarchy so much as an example of the sort of roles that could exist in your average operating theatre.

Operating Theatre Manager

The operating theatre manager oversees the theatre’s day-to-day operational issues. They will often manage multiple sites. Their responsibilities involve managing budgets and resources, as well as implementing risk management and health and safety policies.

As well as providing professional leadership to all theatre staff, they might lead on research projects and assess, develop, and implement new evidence-based programmes of care.

You can read our full guide to an operating theatre manager’s roles and responsibilities.

Operating Theatre Team Leader

Supporting the theatre manager, the team leader will directly lead the multidisciplinary theatre team, both professionally and clinically.

Their responsibilities will involve planning and organising workload and supervising the nursing staff. They may also provide clinical advice, and ongoing training and development in the use of specialist instruments and equipment.

The team leader will also oversee the maintenance of operating theatre equipment, which will include keeping on top of stock levels.

Theatre Practitioners

Nurses, surgeons, anaesthetists and other specialists. Responsible for undertaking or assisting in the highly skilled invasive medical procedures that take place in the controlled theatre environment.

As they carry out such delicate, high-pressure procedures, many would argue that the theatre practitioners are the most important of all the operating theatre staff.

However, as we’ll see, the practitioners depend on a huge team of support staff to ensure they can deliver the highest possible quality of care.

In an operating theatre, communication is key, and each member of the team must feel like they can depend on every other member of the team at all times.

Operating Department Practitioners (ODPs)

ODPs have a diverse range of skills across three main areas of the theatre:

  • Anaesthetics – While the anaesthetist works, the ODP will usually interact with the patient – talking to them and giving them whatever support they need to stay calm.
  • Scrub – While the theatre team is operating, the ODPs will ensure that all surgical equipment is readily available and adequately sterilised.
  • Recovery – ODPs will provide a lot of recovery support, including airway management, pain relief, and supervising patients as anaesthesia wears off.

Surgical Care Practitioners

Registered non-medical healthcare professionals who work with the surgical team to ensure the best outcome for the patient.

Before the operation, they will gather the patient’s medical history and perform an assessment. Throughout this process, they will liaise with the surgical team so as to inform them of any of the patient’s special requirements.

During procedures, they may be responsible for certain surgical interventions. These may include prepping the patient, assisting in haemostasis, and carrying out wound closure procedures.

Following the operation, they’ll assist in the patient assessments, and contribute to any meetings to discuss the patient’s ongoing care.

Recovery Practitioner

As the name suggests, recovery practitioners are there to oversee the patient’s recovery. Though their responsibilities begin before the procedure, as they usually assist the anaesthetist and ODP in supervising the patient.

Following the procedure, they’ll oversee advanced pain and airway management, and the ongoing monitoring of the patient for post-operative complications.

Support Workers

Finally, a team of support workers will carry out all the essential housekeeping duties and assist in any other activities essential to the smooth running of the operating theatre.

This might include maintaining the cleanliness of the theatre itself, as well as all ante rooms, changing rooms, kitchens, and sterilisation suites. They will also assist in stock management, keeping tabs on stock levels and ensuring that the team will always have everything they need, exactly when they need it.

Indeed, a good operating theatre support worker will be able to anticipate the requirements of the operating team, so they can give them the support they need before they even realise they need it.

Running an Efficient Operating Theatre

As we’ve seen, it takes a huge team of people to run a successful operating theatre.

Each member of the team needs to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. They should have fast access to exactly the equipment they need, and they should be able to depend on this equipment being in a safe and reliable condition.

Good communication is vital if such a large, multidisciplinary team is to function. Effective leadership can help create a culture in which each member of the team is perfectly aware of their role and responsibilities. But this is just one aspect of an efficient operating theatre.

Read our full guide to improving quality and efficiency in operating theatres.

Get Expert Advice Today

Whether you want a consultation on effective infection control, or some advice on improving operational effectiveness in the theatre, our experts are here to help.

Get in touch to talk to one of our expert consultants today.

What is Surgical Steel & What’s The Difference From Stainless Steel?

You have to be able to rely on your surgical instruments. The size and the function are important, but just as important is the quality of the steel.

This is your essential guide to surgical steel. We’ll explore how it differs from standard stainless steel, before addressing some of the most commonly asked questions people have about surgical steel. Finally, we’ll let you know how you should choose the right steel quality for your surgical purposes.

What Is Surgical Steel?

Surgical steel is a low-carbon steel containing high concentrations of chromium. This chromium reacts with oxygen in the air to form a stable oxide bond that helps prevent rust. Surgical steel is also nonporous, making it more hygienic for use in clinical environments. And as it’s chemically inert, you can safely sterilise surgical steel with no risk of corrosion or degradation.

What Are The Differences Between Surgical Steel and Stainless Steel?

This is where it can get confusing. For while almost all surgical instruments are made from stainless steel, not all stainless steel is suitable for medical use.

Stainless steel comes in a variety of grades. Medical grade stainless steel – that is, surgical steel – tends to have a higher concentration of chromium. Surgical steel will contain at least 13% chromium, compared to standard stainless steel’s 10.5%.

Surgical steel can also contain a higher concentration of Molybendum, to further reduce corrosion, and nickel, which reduces its brittleness. However, surgical devices designed for use as implants will usually have a lower nickel content, to prevent infection in the patient’s body.

Does Surgical Steel Rust?

No – the oxide bond produced by the chromium coats the surgical steel like a film. This means that even if you damage the steel’s exterior, the film will heal itself, making it impossible for rust to take hold.

Is Surgical Steel Self-Healing?

This self-healing quality is crucial for healthcare applications. Small fissures in the surface of steel can work as a breeding ground for bacteria. With surgical steel, any fissures will close themselves before bacteria can take hold. This, combined with ongoing sterilisation, helps keep surgical steel suitably hygienic for medical use.

Does Surgical Steel Stain?

Surgical steel is a form of stainless steel. But the name “stainless steel” can be misleading. It’s not “stainproof steel”. It’s “stainless steel”. It’s less likely to stain, but stains are still possible.

In time, all types of stainless steel corrodes and stains. Surgical steel is no exception – though the higher chromium content can make it a lot more durable than standard stainless steel.

The correct cleaning procedures can greatly prolong the lives of surgical steel instruments. For example, using deionised water with high-quality cleaning chemicals can reduce water spotting while helping avoid mineral deposits forming in the wash cycle.

But unfortunately, no surgical instrument can be used indefinitely. Your surgical instrument supplier will be able to advise you on how long you can expect to use your instruments before they need replacing.

Is Surgical Steel Magnetic?

Many grades of surgical steel are magnetic. The steel’s chemical composition determines whether or not it’s magnetic. A large quantity of ferrite will make surgical steel magnetic. Also, surgical steel that’s been heat-treated for extra durability is usually magnetic owing to an abundance of iron.

However, surgical steel containing particularly high chromium content – at about 30% – along with nickel is more likely to be non-magnetic.

If you need more information on whether the surgical steel you need should be magnetic or non-magnetic, get in touch to talk to one of our experts today.

How To Choose The Right Steel Quality for Surgical Purposes

There are many different grades of surgical steel, and each is suitable for a different range of applications.

Some grades offer increased sharpness, flexibility or durability. Others are more resistant to corrosion, and some are designed to be used as implants, either permanently or temporarily.

We offer one of the most comprehensive ranges of surgical instruments on the UK market, and our experts are always on-hand to discuss your needs. So if you’d like some guidance on the right steel quality to choose for your application, get in touch to talk to an expert today.

Types of Surgical Instruments – Names and Instrument Selection

If we classify them according to their function, there are three main types of surgical instruments:

  • Cutting surgical instruments – Such as blades, knives, scissors and scalpels.
  • Grasping surgical instruments – Anything you use to hold something in place, such as forceps.
  • Retracting surgical instruments – For holding incisions open, or for holding organs and tissues out of the way while you operate.

Types of Surgical Instruments For Cutting

These are some of the most common surgical instruments for cutting:

Blades, Knives and Scalpels

We categorise scalpels by their size and shape, and each type is good for a different sort of application. For example, surgeons usually choose a number 10 blade for making smaller incisions in skin and tissue. Whereas a number 15 blade, with its small curve, is better for making short and precise incisions, such as when removing a skin lesion or opening a coronary artery.

Surgical Scissors

Surgical scissors come in a huge range of sizes. At the top end of the scale are heavy-duty surgical scissors, which can cut through thick tissue, muscle, and even bone. Mid-size surgical scissors use a combination of sharp and serrated blades to give precise cuts with minimal tissue damage. Surgical scissors with curved blades help you to make clean cuts without hitting any underlying tissue.

Smaller scissors include Vannas scissors and Castroviejo scissors, both of which are good for delicate applications such as ophthalmic and neurosurgical procedures. Finally, small sapphire blades can create precise cuts while applying a minimum of pressure, making them perfect for microsurgery.

Types of Surgical Instruments For Grasping

Like scissors and scalpels, surgical forceps come in a range of styles and sizes, each one suitable for different applications. Forceps can either have straight tips or curved tips. Straight tips provide more grip and precision, while curved tips provide more visibility.

Thumb Forceps

Some forceps you squeeze to open. These are thumb forceps, and they’re good for dressing wounds, removing dressings, and tying sutures.

Reverse Forceps

Other forceps you squeeze to close. These are reverse-forceps, and their design provides uniform tension for added precision, especially when you’re wearing gloves.

Locking Forceps (Haemostats)

Some forceps resemble scissors. These are called haemostats or locking forceps, and surgeons use them to securely hold tissues during delicate operations, and to compress blood vessels to obstruct the blood flow when operating on organs.

Types of Surgical Instruments For Retracting

In surgery, retractors can either hold a wound or incision open, or hold an organ or tissue out of the way so you can work underneath.

Hand Retractors

Hand retractors require someone – or something – to hold them in place for the duration of a procedure. Surgical assistants usually undertake this role.

Self-Retaining Retractors

As the name suggests, self-retaining retractors do not require anyone to hold them throughout procedures. They can use screws, ratchets or clamps to hold tissue in place. Alternatively, wire retractors use a spring system to keep things secure.

Choosing The Right Surgical Instrument For Your Application

Some surgical instruments are versatile. You can use them in a range of applications. But certain applications will demand more specific surgical tools – smaller, sharper, or more precise, for example.

Your surgical instrument supplier should help you choose the right instrument for your specific application. But here are some things you should consider to help narrow down your choice:

  • What procedure are you performing? Almost every procedure you could conceivably perform over the course of your surgical career will have been performed before. This means that there’ll be published research papers about almost every procedure. These papers will often list the surgical equipment used during the procedure. They may even make clear recommendations for which equipment to use for best results.
  • How often will you use the surgical equipment? Of course you’ll keep your surgical instruments clean between use. But it’s also important to remember that surgical equipment doesn’t stay sharp forever. If you intend to make heavy use of your surgical equipment, look for those made with more durable materials, as they’ll stay sharp for longer.

Need more advice in choosing the right surgical equipment for your application? We offer one of the most comprehensive ranges of surgical instruments in the UK, and our experts are always on hand to help you choose the equipment you need. Find out more about our surgical instruments.

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Tips for Surgical Instrument Care & Handling

Tips for Surgical Instrument Care

Use as intended

Misuse of instruments can lead to stress and irreversible damage.

Handle with care

Poor handling can lead to contamination, corrosion and fractures.

Avoid dried residue

Blood and other secretions can cause discolouration and corrosion

Avoid leaving wet

Instruments left in liquid can cause a galvanic current that can lead to galvanic corrosion

Avoid mechanical stress

This can lead to misalignment of instrument parts as well as tension corrosion

Stick to processes

Ensure that routines in the Central Sterilisation Department are strictly followed

Clean as advised

Always adhere to manufacturers instruments for cleaning and sterilisation

Avoid poor servicing

Always use a certified repair facility: inexpert servicing can ruin valuable instruments

8 useful tips for surgical instrument care

High quality surgical instruments can be an amazing investment. Offering exceptional performance and durability, some studies have shown such instruments can last for well over 30 years.(1)

However, even the finest surgical instruments will only last if they are carefully handled, properly maintained and professionally serviced. Follow these 10 tips to help ensure your instruments last for as long as possible:


Never use a surgical instrument for anything other than the purpose for which it was designed. By misusing instruments, you can cause irreversible damage by stressing the parts and damaging the surface.


Poor handling of surgical instruments is a sure-fire way to damage them, so don’t start throwing them around or leaving them in unsuitable conditions. If you do, you may quickly find that your instruments suffer fractures or become contaminated and corroded.


Clean used instruments quickly to avoid any residue drying onto the surface. This is because, blood and other secretions can cause discolouration and corrosion.


Once cleaned, make sure the instruments are dried properly. Instruments left in liquid cause a galvanic current that can lead to galvanic corrosion.


Don’t stress an instrument beyond its capabilities as this can lead to misalignment of instrument parts. It can also cause tension or stress corrosion: the spontaneous cracking of instrument parts subject to high tensile pressure, such as screws and welded sections.


Make sure that routines in the Central Sterilisation Department are strictly followed. This includes ensuring that instruments are cleaned at the correct temperature, using the correct detergent and that they are stacked and dried correctly.


Always adhere to manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and sterilisation. In particular, it is important to stick to dosage and duration guidelines for the detergent you are using.


Always use a certified repair facility, as inexpert servicing can ruin valuable instruments. By having your surgical instruments professionally inspected, refurbished and realigned, you can help ensure that they are restored to top condition.

If you found the above tips useful, you can click here to view and download our handy infographic for surgical instrument care. 


For ongoing tips on how to maintain your valuable surgical instruments just click here and follow our LinkedIn page. As well as tips on instrument care, we also post news on upcoming surgical events, advances in surgical technology and new product updates.


(1)   Dahl G, Ölveback T, Wiklung L. Quality surgical instruments best investment. Presented: SEORNA, Swedish Operating Nurse Association Conference Meeting, 29-30 November 2012