Heritage Crafts

Surgical instrument making

The making of surgical instruments for use in operating theatres.
Currently viable
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Area practiced currently
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
21-50 12 at Platts & Nisbett; Unknown number at S Murray & Co
Current No. of trainees
3 – Platts & Nisbett apprentices/trainees




Although there have been some technological advances (such as the use of laser welding and laser marking machines), surgical instruments are still largely made by hand. The filing and fitting cannot be done using machines.



Issues affecting the viability

  • Training issues – it takes five years (over 10,000 hours) to complete a Platts & Nisbett Apprenticeship at a total cost to the company of approximately £90,000. They currently receive only £500 funding per apprentice and no other financial help for training which is all done in house at the company’s expense.
  • Recruitment issues – it is difficult to find suitable people with a good work ethic, who want to work with their hands and make a career from craft.
  • Market issues – competing with many British supply companies who are buying cheaper lower quality surgical instruments from Asia which are flooding the market.
  • Lack of education of the end users – many hospital staff are unaware of the original source of some surgical instruments, i.e. that they are imported from Asia and sold on by British companies. Users assume it is a British made product. The quality of material and workmanship of these lower cost products is often questionable. Changes in Regulations regarding transparency in 2020 may improve this.
  • Lack of metal work being taught as a subject in schools, so young people may be unaware they have a natural ability which could be nurtured, and developed into a career.
  • Lack of awareness that this craft can offer a well-paid career. Traditional crafts take a back seat to the advanced technologies.
  • Rising cost of raw materials (stainless steel and forgings) and consumables.
  • Cost of quality systems which are essential to comply with CE Marking Regulations etc
  • Cost of insurance, health and safety systems, pensions etc for small businesses.

Support organisations


Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known

Other information

Surgical instrument makers must not only be able to work with their hands, but understand how things work and be traditional problem-solving engineers. This is not something which can be done by computers and machinery. Producing a quality product is vital, as there is a patient at the end of everything that is made.


  • Peter Machan, The Little Mesters: The Rise, Decline and Survival of Sheffield’s Traditional Trades Paperback – 23 Mar. 2023
National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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