It’s not uncommon to see medical gowns and hospital linen hung out to dry alongside regular clothes from households.

A worrying reality at a time when Covid-19 has more than brought home the need for stringent quality and infection control to protect healthcare practitioners, patients and those handling such healthcare textiles used in hospitals, clinics, even pharmaceutical companies.

But a silent initiative is underway from within the healthcare segment to streamline the handling and processing of such textiles. The voluntary scheme is an initiative of the Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone Ltd (AMTZ), in collaboration with the Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AiMeD) and the Association of Healthcare Providers India (AHPI), and was announced on World Health Day, in early April.

Wide coverage

Though the pandemic may have made PPEs (or Personal Protective Equipment) part of household conversations, healthcare textiles covered by this scheme go beyond them. It covers the sweep of textiles from overcoats, scrubs and aprons, for example, worn by healthcare practitioners to bed linen, pillow covers, towels and even equipment covers, say those involved with outlining the scheme that has been bench-marked with international standards.

Explaining its importance, they point out, there is a degree of sterilisation that is involved, depending on whether the linen comes from an infectious ward, operation theatre or an out-patient department.

The quality of healthcare textiles depends not only on the materials used, “but also on the processing facilities where they are sterilized, cleaned, and packaged,” says the document outlining the Healthcare Textiles Processing Facility Certification Scheme.

“The scheme aims to ensure the quality of healthcare textiles, including personal protective equipment (PPE), by certifying the facilities that process them,” the document said, clarifying that it covered only multiple-use healthcare textiles.

The scheme has been developed in compliance with international standards ISO/IEC 17065, published International Accreditation Forum (IAF) documents and other global benchmarks, says Dr Sanjiiiv Relhan with the Preventive Wear Manufacturers’ Association of India. A protocol-driven process to disinfect medical textiles will help bridge trust with users, he points out.

Different medical textiles will have to be segregated and cleaned and sterilised, depending on the fabric used and on the level of infection it may have been exposed to, he says. In many countries, for instance, HCPs are not allowed to take their medical belongings home to get it washed, he points out.

The pandemic did highlight the importance of PPEs to protect HCPs and patients, says Association of Healthcare Providers’ (India) Director, Dr Sunil K Khetarpal. But quality is not dependant only on the materials used to make products, but also on how it is cleaned and packaged, he says, adding that decontamination was important from the point of view of tackling microbial infection, for instance.

A Quality control order would have been useful at the onset of Covid-19, observes AiMED’s Rajiv Nath. In fact, producers of such products faced an uphill task during the pandemic, where different authorities asked for different standards in quality. “What was demanded was not in consensus and not aligned to international standards,” he recalled, adding that a pragmatic approach was required that was not an “overkill”, nor “shoddy”. These are hygiene products, he said, underlining the need for stringent quality in manufacture and its handling thereafter.

Hygiene cue for others

Giving details on the scheme, Mrutunjay Jena, AMTZ Scientist and Head (quality and regulatory affairs) says, it is a detailed, technical document, outlining traceability (back to the manufacturer); whether a product needs sterilisation or not (depending on whether the linen, for instance, is from an operation theater or a special ward); whether it has exhausted the number of times it can be used etc. Jena was formerly with Quality Council of India and involved with accreditation of certification bodies says.

Outlining what happens next, he said, medical textile processing laundries (in hospitals or third party) will start getting certified by accredited bodies including those that are part of the IAF. Presently though, efforts are underway to make hospitals and clinics of all hues aware of the scheme and even hand-hold them in adopting it. Jena expects to see the scheme adopted in a year, once the certification bodies are in place.

And while there’s no disputing the need for stringent hygiene and infection control in healthcare, Jena sees the scheme resonating in other public-oriented service sectors as well. Sectors such as railways and hotels, he says, could benefit from a dose of healthcare-level hygiene standards.