NHS fails to maintain life-saving equipment

Maintenance on items such as defibrillators, heart monitors, infusion pumps and drips has been questioned. Picture: Paul Parke
Maintenance on items such as defibrillators, heart monitors, infusion pumps and drips has been questioned. Picture: Paul Parke
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PATIENTS across the Lothians are being treated with thousands of pieces of hospital equipment that have not been properly maintained, it has emerged.

An internal NHS Lothian audit revealed that potentially life-saving tools such as defibrillators and heart monitors were still in use up to three years after they had been due to be serviced.

The probe into medical equipment also found that basic information on devices was often not held on databases as it should have been and that up to 20 per cent of equipment was not found during inspections.

The NHS Lothian team, whose findings were made public through the Freedom of Information Act, warned that not maintaining equipment increased the risk that it may not work safely or effectively, while patient groups said lives could be put at risk.

Health bosses said action had been taken following the probe and equipment was always checked before it was used.

MSP and Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said it was clear there had been an issue for “very many years” and NHS Lothian needed to “get a grip” of the problem.

He added: “It’s incredible to think swathes of equipment are effectively made ageless because records haven’t been kept. You wouldn’t see this practice replicated in many private-sector industries, so there’s no excuse for it to be this common within our NHS.”

The audit found that of more than 16,000 items for which maintenance dates were recorded, 3500 had not been serviced on time. Of those, more than half were more than three months overdue, and on average checks were 13 months late. One piece of kit was found to be 39 months overdue for a service.

Records showed that the last date that equipment was serviced was missing 11 per cent of the time, while expected replacement dates were missing in a quarter of cases.

In the summer of 2011, it was reported that a reporting function for equipment in a computer system was not working properly but the fault had not been fixed more than 18 months after it was flagged up with the software developer.

Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, said the revelations were “absolutely appalling”.

“Each piece of equipment that isn’t properly maintained is a potential disaster for a patient,” she said.

“People’s lives depend on these machines and the health board should be on top of every single piece of equipment. It’s absolutely shocking.”

Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, admitted there were areas where the health board could do better.

He added: “I would like to reassure patients and the public that our clinical staff are required to check all equipment before it is used.

“What this report has highlighted is that there are improvements that can be made in our administration and recording of maintenance of these smaller pieces of equipment which are mostly mobile and move with patients between wards and 
departments.

“Our internal audit process is designed to look at potential risks and to identify areas for improvement.

“This audit report made a number of recommendations to improve our processes and these are now being ­implemented.”