ACORN Standards Applied to Practice (ASAP)

How ACORN standards reflect the requirements of new and emerging Standards Australia's standards

Recently ACORN received an enquiry requesting additional insights regarding changes made by Standards Australia to AS/NZS 3825:1998 Procedures and devices for the removal and disposal of scalpel blades from scalpel handles. In late 2020, Standards Australia updated and republished AS/NZS 3825:1998 as AS 3825:2020 Procedures and devices for the removal, containment and disposal of scalpel blades from scalpel handles. The enquiry recognised that ACORN was a Nominating Organisation with a representative involved in reviewing the AS 3825 standard.

Standards Australia standards are developed and revised by Technical Committees (TCs) made up of representatives from organisations that represent the views of a particular interest group. Organisations that nominate a representative for a TC are referred to as Nominating Organisations (NOs). ACORN is a valued NO. It regularly provides representatives sourced from ACORN’s expert members to work with Standards Australia and representatives from other NOs as members of specific TCs. Under Standards Australia’s governance for standards development, all NO representatives are obligated to provide periodic updates to their respective NO. These updates ensure the NO representatives contribute from a broad base rather than from a personal or single facility perspective. This is important for ACORN as our members represent a diverse array of practice settings and perioperative roles.

Additionally, Standards Australia always has a period of public comment on every draft standard they develop. While ACORN acknowledges that its representative to a TC has an obligation to draw ACORN’s attention to pending changes, it is ultimately up to organisations such as ACORN and the local state and territory perioperative nursing associations (local associations or LAs) to keep abreast of Standards Australia’s work. Therefore, ACORN keeps a watching brief on publicly available information and updates published by Standards Australia. Further detail about Standards Australia’s public comments process and their governance structure around standards development is accessible on the Standards Australia website.

When considering new or updated standards from Standards Australia, one must also appreciate that ACORN is only one of many organisations represented on any TC. The Standards Australia drafting process always requires consensus before finalising any drafts. That consensus does not have to be unanimous; instead, it may be by majority. While the workings of committees are not in the public domain, it is not unreasonable to suppose that sometimes NOs hold minority views different to the majority of other stakeholders.

ACORN members seeking to understand and accept the recommendations included in various Standards Australia standards should find that the recommendations are generally consistent with the principles in other high-level public policies and directives e.g. the current Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection and the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards. Standards Australia routinely seeks alignment with these and other equivalently powered directives.

Similarly, ACORN seeks to align ACORN standards with Australian and international standards. The two volumes of the current 16th edition of Standards for Perioperative Nursing in Australia (the ACORN Standards) both include a table of Australian and international standards cited within the respective volumes. ACORN included these tables for two reasons. Firstly, their inclusion reassures readers that ACORN has thoroughly interrogated public policy and directives related to each individual ACORN standard. Secondly, the details included in the table assist readers who are keen to review the existing Australian and international standards that have been cited.

ACORN is aware of only one downside of citing Australian and international standards – the need to review and revise ACORN standards in response to any changes or updates to the Australian and international standards in the period between each current and subsequent edition of the ACORN Standards. Such changes almost always require ACORN to make minor amendments to its standards and this is much more easily done on electronic, rather than hard copy, editions of the ACORN Standards.

It is hoped that this brief update clarifies how ACORN members are represented in Standards Australia standard-setting and how ACORN evaluates and incorporates specific Standards Australia standards into the ACORN Standards.

Volume 1 of the current 16th edition of Standards for Perioperative Nursing in Australia (the ACORN Standards) includes recommendations on a wide range of clinical practices. Historically each set of clinical practice recommendations was classified and structured as either a standard, guideline or position statement. Collectively those standards, guidelines and position statements formed approximately half of the entire suite of ACORN Standards. The next edition of the ACORN Standards will only include standards. Therefore an essential part of ACORN’s Roadmap Project currently being undertaken by the Clinical Workstream Team (WST) is making recommendations about which of the 16th edition's current clinical topics will remain as revised, updated standards.

ACORN will deal with the clinical topics not being retained in one of three ways. They may be reclassified as an ACORN guideline, reclassified as an ACORN position statement or rescinded. All reclassified topics will be subject to revision and updating before ACORN progressively republishes them. They will sit separate from the ACORN Standards and serve an entirely different purpose. ACORN will communicate that purpose as each guideline or position statement is published.  

ACORN’s Roadmap Project has delegated responsibility for making recommendations about which clinical topics ACORN must include in the next edition of the ACORN Standards to the Clinical WST. To do this task well and thoroughly, team members have considered how they and their colleagues routinely use the ACORN Standards and, through a series of meetings, surveys, and email discussions the team has recommended improvements ACORN could make to increase the useability of future ACORN Standards.

The Clinical WST identified two key issues early in their discussion:

  1. the high degree of repetition, and possibly even contradiction, in the overall content of the Standards
  2. the absence of an index in the previous and current edition of the ACORN Standards.

To address the first issue the team has now provided a list of standards it recommends be revised and published in the next edition of the ACORN Standards. As well, the team has recommended the preferred future for the residual current standards, guidelines and position statements. Pending approval by the Roadmap Project’s National Leadership Group (NLG), some will be revised and retained as standards while others will be reclassified, revised and republished as guidelines or position statements. The team recognised that some topics, currently included in the ACORN Standards, are covered elsewhere as standards published by another reputable agency or organisation and has recommended that ACORN rescinds standards, guidelines and position statements about these topics.

In relation to the second issue, the team identified that perioperative staff may need to immediately know or confirm ACORN's recommendations contained in a  specific standard; therefore, the team strongly recommended that ACORN consider developing an index for the next version of the ACORN Standards. As this brief report goes to press, ACORN is exploring possible options for integrating an index.

ACORN continues to seek ways to improve and simplify the ACORN Standards. ACORN remains committed to providing Australian perioperative nurses and organisations with standards that are clear, free from repetition or contradiction and reflective of their evolution over the last four decades. ACORN can only achieve these goals by the direct involvement of committed members and experts such as the members of the Clinical WST and the NLG. Together with the NLG, the Clinical WST and ACORN look forward to sharing more details about the next edition closer to its publication. In the interim, please keep up to date with the standards via ACORN's Standards webpage.

Recently, a member asked for ACORN's advice about the requirements for consent with paediatric patients. Specifically, when a child comes to theatre does the parent that signed the consent form have to be present? Or can it be the other parent who may not have consented for the surgery?

A great place to start to learn more about consent is ‘Informed consent in health care’ a fact sheet for clinicians published by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health care (ACSQHC). The fact sheet highlights:

  1. there is case law in Australia about informed consent
  2. each state and territory also has guardianship and/or medical treatment legislation about capacity and consent
  3. this legislation is different in each state and territory, and can be complex.

Fact sheet: Informed consent in health care, ACQSHC 2020, p.2

ACORN encourages all members practicing in Australia to refer to the Commission's fact sheet which is available at:

November 2020

ACORN last published competency standards in 2014 as part of the ACORN Standards for Perioperative Nursing. Following substantial changes in national recommendations from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA), the ACORN Board of Directors agreed that ACORN should no longer publish competency standards. The subsequent 2016, 2018 and 2020 editions of Standards for Perioperative Nursing in Australia (the ACORN Standards) do not include competency standards. This, and the lack of competencies published on ACORN’s website, signal that ACORN has rescinded the 2014 ACORN competency standards. ACORN recommends that they not be used in terms of contemporary practice.

It is worth noting, as it had a direct impact on the relevance of ACORN’s competency standards, that the NMBA replaced the National competency standards for the registered nurse (2010) and the National competency standards for the enrolled nurse (2002) with Registered nurse standards for practice (2016) and Enrolled nurse standards for practice (2016). The NMBA also published the Nurse practitioner standards for practice in 2014. See

The NMBA has openly removed the term 'competency' from its standards because ‘Research suggested that confusion existed between the use of the term “competency-based assessment” in the vocational education and training (VET) sector and use of the term “competency” in other settings.’

For their respective nursing registration – enrolled nurse (EN), registered nurse (RN) or nurse practitioner (NP) ­– the NMBA standards for practice are the core practice standards that provide the framework for assessing nursing practice. They reflect the respective roles ‘in the current health environment, remaining broad and principle-based, to ensure they are sufficiently dynamic and applicable for a range of practice settings’.

October 2020

The 2020 ACORN Standards stipulate that surgical hand scrub and alcohol-based surgical hand rub should not be used sequentially. Of all the recommendations included in the ACORN Clinical Standards this issue is one of the most commonly questioned. It's time we made it simpler to implement so please read on to learn more about this recommendation, where it comes from, what it means and how you can follow it clinically. 

ACORN does not make recommendations regarding specific products as we appreciate that different jurisdictions and organisations have various procurement procedures in place including tenders with specific manufacturers and distributors. Important issues such as staff tolerance to the active ingredients in a solution used for surgical hand antisepsis should also influence what's used. Organisations should take care in selecting hand hygiene solutions as sensitivities may develop. Clinicians should also follow all manufacturer instructions for use (IFU) and only use the solution how and for what it was intended.

Both iodine and Chlorhexidine (CHG) are excellent antiseptics, the main benefit for CHG is its persistence. CHG should be in combination with alcohol so that both immediate kill is achieved (by the alcohol) and persistence is attained (by the CHG). 

Members of the surgical team should perform a surgical hand scrub using an antiseptic surgical solution (surgical hand scrub) before the first and every subsequent surgical procedure of the day1.

Traditionally, surgical team members have performed a presurgical hand preparation (‘scrub’) using a surgical hand preparation and water. Recent formulations of waterless, alcohol-based antiseptic hand rub, when used according to IFUs, no longer require the preliminary scrub using a surgical hand preparation and water. The waterless, alcohol-based antiseptic hand rub alone should be sufficient to eliminate transient flora and reduce resident skin flora on the user's hands.

The 2020 ACORN Standards stipulate that surgical hand scrub and alcohol-based surgical hand rub should not be used sequentially as using surgical hand scrub and washing may result in moist hands and moisture may dilute the antimicrobial properties of the surgical hand rub. Surgical hand scrub may also enhance skin irritation and dryness. This recommendation is based on World Health Organization guidelines2 which cite a seminal paper by Kampf3.

Applying this recommendation requires a necessary change in long-held practice. Perioperative nursing often involves following highly ritualised behaviours and so ACORN appreciates this change may be difficult. ACORN also recognises that differences in  recommendations, procurement and supply may exist and these need to be considered by perioperative staff at a local decision-making level. Also staff sensitivities; compatibility of hand hygiene solutions with other protections, such as surgical gloves; pricing; safety and IFUs also rightly influence purchasing decisions and practice.

ACORN encourages perioperative staff to engage with hand hygiene suppliers regarding IFUs, benefits, limitations and educational materials associated with their specific hand hygiene formulations. Also please refer to ACORN standard ‘Surgical hand antisepsis’, including its glossary of important terms.


  1. National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Australian guidelines for the prevention and control of infection in healthcare [Internet]. Canberra: NHMRC; 2019 [cited 2020 March 24]. Available from:
  2. World Health Organization. Guidelines on hand hygiene in health care. First global patient safety challenge: Clean care is safe care. Geneva: WHO; 2009.
  3. G Kampf, H Löffler. Dermatological aspects of a successful introduction and continuation of alcohol-based hand rubs for hygienic hand disinfection. J Hosp Infect 2003;55(1):1–7. DOI: 10.1016/S0195-6701(03)00223-8.